During the 1940s, only 15 whooping cranes survived worldwide, due to overhunting and the destruction of their natural habitat. Since 2001, Operation Migration has played a lead role in reintroducing the birds into eastern North America, with nearly 500 surviving today in wild populations and captive breeding centers.

“Southern Company has supported efforts such as Operation Migration through the Power of Flight program since 2008,” said Leslie Cox, environmental stewardship program manager for Southern Company. “These innovative programs are a great way to connect people, to understand that we share this planet and to identify things we can all do to work together and coexist with these species.”

Southern Company participates in Operation Migration and many other environmental stewardship programs to protect wildlife and conserve natural resources. These partnerships foster environmental improvements to ensure the Southeast continues to be a healthy and desirable place to live.

Operation Migration used ultralight aircraft to guide young whooping cranes south each winter, leading them through a series of stops from Wisconsin to a wildlife refuge in northwest Florida. Once the cranes have learned the route, they can make the return migration on their own in the spring.

Joe Duff, Operation Migration’s co-founder and CEO, and his partners pilot the planes, teaching the cranes how to take off and where to fly.

While the program has successfully taught the whooping cranes the migration route, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced it will no longer support the effort because the captive-bred cranes have not had reproductive success in the wild.

“There are no words to express our gratitude to all of those who supported Operation Migration over the last 15 years,” Duff wrote. “We have a hundred birds in the eastern migratory population that would not be there without your efforts and support. They survive, they migrate, they pair, and they are wild.”

For more information on Southern Company’s environmental stewardship programs and to learn about other collaborative partnerships aimed at preserving wildlife, please visit their wildlife stewardship website today.