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In pictures: In flight with the whooping cranes

Lifelong pilot Peter Cheney, a Globe and Mail columnist, was given the opportunity to fly with the cranes thanks to his friendship with Bill Lishman, an Ontario artist and inventor whose work with migratory birds inspired the Hollywood film Fly Away Home and helped pull the whooping crane back from the brink of extinction.

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A juvenile whooping crane raised at Wisconsin’s Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.

Ryan Haggerty/WCEP

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Three of the five French-made ultralights used in the migration effort.

Peter Cheney

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An Operation Migration bird handler wears a special ‘crane suit’ that keeps juvenile birds from imprinting on humans.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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Whooping cranes are fed by smocked handlers using a hand-puppet shaped like a crane’s head.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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Globe and Mail columnist Peter Cheney prepares for a morning flight with whooping cranes in a Wisconsin orchard that serves as a runway.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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Young whooping cranes fed with the tool designed to resemble an adult bird.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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An Operation Migration pilot prepares to take off from a farm field along the aerial trek that led 16 whooping cranes from Wisconsin to Florida.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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Operation Migration pilots fly low over the ground each morning to pick up the cranes from their nesting spot. The process mimics the behaviour of wild adult cranes who lead young birds along ancient migration routes.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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An Operation Migration pilot zooms low to pick up birds who will follow him for a day’s flight. The aircraft is equipped with a mesh propeller guard to protect whooping cranes as they fly in close formation.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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A flock of juvenile whooping cranes lifts off from a Wisconsin field to follow an ultralight aircraft that will lead them south.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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Whooping cranes fly in formation with a pilot from Operation Migration, a Canadian agency that teaches migratory birds to follow forgotten routes to ancestral breeding grounds.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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The ultralight planes flown by Operation Migration are designed to fly at the same speed as migratory birds

Peter Cheney

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Whooping cranes increase their flying efficiency by staying in the wake of birds ahead of them. Operation Migration pilots train young birds to follow them.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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An Operation Migration pilot flies in formation with a group of juvenile whooping cranes.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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An in-flight photo from the Cosmos ultralight aircraft piloted by Globe and Mail columnist Peter Cheney with Operation Migration.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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A juvenile whooping crane rests after a 100-kilometre formation flight with Operation Migration.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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The handlers feed the cranes after a day of flying.

Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail

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