Yesterday morning I arrived in St. Marks at 0715 to witness the arrival of 5 of this years hatchling cranes. They had followed an ultra-lite plane for 54 days and over 1100 miles, from Wisconsin to St. Marks NWR. Prior to the landing at the Refuge, they did a fly over at the city of St. Marks.
The birds have imprinted on the ulta-lite, treating it as another crane and if you look closely at the pilot he is dressed in an all white "costume". All the people that interact with the cranes dress in "costume" and do not speak, so that the young birds won't imprint on them.
Here is a handler in "costume" with the crane head used in training. They act as surrogate parents and teach the young birds what to eat and how to behave.
Off toward the refuge where they'll spend the next few months before returning, on their own. to Wisconsin, Hopefully, around this time next year, they will return to St Marks NWR with prior years classes.
The whooping crane has come a long way in my lifetime, As a child the total number of birds was around 40, today it is over 600. A big step, but was still a long way to go. If you would like to contribute or just gain more information, here is the group that brought the cranes to St. Marks.