Back from the brink of extinction

WHOOPING CRANES ARE trained to migrate south to their winter quarters, led by one or more of these Operation Migration ultralight aircrafts.   submitted photo

Festival will honor revival of whooping cranes Sept. 10 to 13 

by Laura Lyke
Green Lake Reporter

Whooping cranes nearly vanished in the mid-20th century, with a 1941 count finding an entire population of only 16 living birds.

Since then, these endangered animals have taken a step back from the brink of extinction, thanks to programs like Operation Migration, which direct the birds during the migration journey to stop in our own back yard: Princeton, Wis.

Now counting a population of more than 500 whooping cranes, Operation Migration leads captive-raised whooping crane chicks on their first migration from Wisconsin to Florida, and releases them to create a new wild migratory flock of whooping cranes in the eastern United States.

Back from extinction 2 8-26-15TAKING A STROLL on the grass are a pair of whooping cranes. Doug Pellerin photo

Celebrating the bird’s prevention from extinction and the process’s pit stop in Green Lake Country, the 2015 Whooping Crane Festival will be held Thursday, Sept. 10 to Sunday, Sept. 13 with events occurring in Princeton, Green Lake and Ripon.

“Lots of activities will be taking place throughout the weekend, but the [heart of the] festival will be on Saturday,” Princeton Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Beth Pelland said. “This is Princeton’s second year hosting the Whooping Crane Festival and we are so excited.”

Birders, bird lovers and wildlife enthusiasts will have an opportunity to meet and mingle with Operation Migration staff members and other avian conservationists at the Saturday morning pancake breakfast at the Princeton School District, the Saturday evening pizza party at the Princeton VFW Hall and at the Horicon Marsh Sunday.

“We also have a variety of activities for kids,” event chairman Carol Bielski said. “We have face painting, canoe rides and archery. We’re also hosting David Stokes, who teaches students about wildlife including live, wild animals like frogs, turtles, snakes and other creatures. I think the adults enjoy it just as much has the kids. I’ve seen him at the Green Lake County Fair with my grandson and we had a wonderful time.”

Pelland estimates that around 1,500 people attended last year’s festival, but organizers are aiming for even higher numbers this year.

“The event grew so much in size that eventually Berlin ran out of room to host the festival, so we took it over,” the chamber executive said. “We’re raising money for an incredible cause — to help these birds — so of course the larger numbers, the better.”

Pelland and Bielski both agree that one of the festival’s largest moneymaking events also happens to be their favorite part of the weekend.

“We both just love the silent and live auction,” Bielski said. “We receive the most beautiful items from people all around the United States who are generous and passionate about this project.”

Seminars will take place throughout Sunday, including Rob Zimmer’s presentation on “Gardening for Wildlife,” Pat Fischer’s talk on “The Feather: Raptor Rehabilitation” and Operation Migration co-founder and CEO Joe Duff’s presentation on his organization.

Crane Fest apparel and promotional merchandise designed by Jessica Gregert of Princeton’s “Daiseye” will be sold at the Princeton Chamber of Commerce table that will be located right though the front doors of the Princeton School District.

Pelland and Bielski feel honored to host and organize the event in their hometown.

“More than anything, we’re just so thankful for Operation Migration’s partnership with us for this event and for making Princeton the bird summer home,” Pelland said. “We’re very blessed to have them.”

For more information about whooping crane conservation and recovery and the upcoming Princeton festival, visit or


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