Florida Teacher Brings Crane Migration Alive for Students

By Mary Silver
Epoch Times Staff
Created: December 2, 2012 Last Updated: December 5, 2012
Related articles: United States » South
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Whooping cranes arrive at St. Marks Wildlife Refuge in Florida on Nov. 23. (Claire Timm)

Whooping cranes arrive at St. Marks Wildlife Refuge in Florida on Nov. 23. (Claire Timm)

Florida teacher Claire Timm began following the drama of the whooping crane reintroduction in 2008 when a parent gave her an article about Operation Migration. She said in a phone interview that she was “not even a bird person,” but “I fell in love with it. It took me a year and those kids were right after me.”

By 2012, she had completely integrated the cranes’ journey into her curriculum, and volunteered at the Wisconsin headquarters of Operation Migration, a leader of the effort to restore a viable wild flock of the endangered birds to the eastern United States. Timm and her students follow the creatures across the country, mapping their progress and learning about each state and country they pass over. She introduces the story with the movie “Fly Away Home.”

Tragedies have hit the experimental program to reintroduce a natural flock in the eastern United States. This year, the tiny group of six became five when one of the birds died after breaking her leg in a bad landing. “One of the hardest things I ever had to do as a teacher was tell them about the death.”

“To me it was the impact of the loss of one bird on the species, and all those people who put so much work into them,” said Timm.

She wondered how she could tell her class of the loss without crying; then realized it was OK if she did. That took a weight off, she said.

Her third graders listened without moving a muscle. No one said a word.

“The questions started coming the next day,” she said. She felt it was a chance to teach a larger lesson, “sometimes you do the best you can do and it still has a bad outcome.” That is when courage and endurance are required.

When the “Fabulous Five” cranes arrived at St. Marks Wildlife Refuge on Nov. 23, Timm took a picture. The five living cranes are closely following the ultralight aircraft—and silhouetted on the wing is a shadow image of a sixth crane.

“I shared it with my class.  I said, ‘count the cranes,’” said Timm.  It was as if the spirit of the sixth crane was leading her fellows, according to Timm.

“A child has a natural compassion and a passion for animals of all kinds,” said Timm.

Timm said she found lots of material on the Journey North website to use with her students. They logged data about the trip, mapped the journey, learned key vocabulary and concepts like tail winds, velocity, altitude, and imprinting.

“It’s amazing how bought in they are to this whole thing,” said Timm.

She said she is grateful for the freedom Maclay, an independent college preparatory school, gives her. “That’s the glory, the support I get from my school.”

Whooping cranes nearly perished in the 1940s, when only 15 wild birds remained.  Operation Migration and its partners raise chicks, without allowing them to become tame, and teach them to follow ultralight aircraft to learn migration routes. Biologists once thought it was impossible to reestablish a wild, migrating flock without elder birds to show the way. Researchers are experimenting to see if they can reintroduce a permanent flock in the eastern United States.

Timm has used the migration to teach science, math, and social studies, but her larger purpose is to teach her students to understand and care about the natural world, “So they will do their part.”

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