Michele Berger
Published: 01/28/2010

Red-tailed Hawk (Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

Florida: Whooping cranes play ‘Follow the Leader’
No, it’s not the 1996 Anna Paquin-Jeff Daniels flick Fly Away Home—but it could be. In north central Florida this past Sunday, a flock of whooping cranes flew in for the winter from Wisconsin, guided by an ultralight aircraft from Operation Migration, a non-profit that has played whopping crane follow-the-leader for almost a decade, NPR reported.

Whooping cranes are classified as endangered in the U.S. and on the IUCN red list, with population estimates ranging from 250 to 380 birds left in the wild. In the 1940s, the population dipped to just 15 individuals. Teaching this species’ young how to migrate is a good thing, biologist Sarah Zamorsky told NPR. “They just have to be shown the way down south one time,” she says, “whether it’s with ultralights or older birds. Then they know how to go back in the spring.”

Why does Operation Migration do it? The organization’s mission statement for this project puts it best: “As aviators, we have a love for the creatures that taught us the art of flying. Now that they need our help, how can we refuse?”

New York: Landfill gets new life—as park
The name Fresh Kills evokes garbage, at least for most New Yorkers and almost anyone who knows a little about the environment. Tons and tons of it, sitting in a big hole in the ground, forever. But now there’s another reason to visit: In 30 years or so, if all goes accordingly, the landfill will be a 2,200-acre park replete with birds and other wildlife.

The garbage is still there, below the surface, sealed off with plastic and planted over with grass, but the hope is that transforming the area into “a productive and beautiful cultural destination,” as the Parks Department puts it, will bring more and varied birds (when Fresh Kills was a landfill, thousands of gulls of several different species hung around for food).

The birds seem to be moving ahead of the Parks Department’s decades-long schedule. On a recent visit to the old landfill site, The New York Times reported that birders saw common mergansers and buffleheads, as well as a red-tailed hawk and meadowlarks. And according to the Parks Department, an osprey family has moved in.

Quick bits from California, Texas, and Afghanistan:

- In California, a red-tailed hawk that got caught in, and was rescued from, the grille of a car in early January was yesterday released into the wild. The hawk suffered a chest injury, which surgeons at UC Davis Veterinary School repaired.

- After the worst oil spill in Texas in a decade and a half last weekend, workers cleaned more than 250,000 gallons of oil and at least three birds: a cormorant, a black crowned night heron, and a brown pelican, The Houston Chronicle reported.

- Researchers in Afghanistan recently found a large-billed reed warbler, a bird dubbed the world’s least-known species by BirdLife International because since its first spotting in 1867, scientists have seen it alive only three other times.