Fly Away Home

Winging south, Operation Migration embarks on a remarkable odyssey

Writer Adele Conover, braving wind, rain and intemperate conditions of every description, went out into the field to report on the breakthrough work of Operation Migration. This extraordinary nonprofit wildlife organization, cofounded by Canadians Bill Lishman and Joe Duff, is bringing ornithological activism to new heights. (Their work was also the inspiration for the Academy Award-nominated film Fly Away Home, the tale of an estranged father and daughter who teach a flock of Canada geese to migrate. The story is a fictionalized version of Lishman's life.)

Lishman and Duff, pioneers in bird migration, are imprinting a flock of sandhill cranes (as stand-ins for endangered whooping cranes) to follow their ultralight aircraft on full-scale migrations. (Cranes, like other large waterbirds such as geese and ducks, lack the so-called homing instinct so prevalent in migratory songbirds. They must learn to migrate from their parents.)

Reporter Conover accompanied Lishman, Duff, their aircraft, backup ground crew and support truck from a starting point in southern Ontario, down through the Eastern United States to the final destination of Airlie, Virginia. Along the way, Operation Migration encountered adventure, hardship, danger — and the exhilaration of forging a connection to a flock of wild winged creatures.

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