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Traveling with elders helps whooping cranes fly straight

Birds get more efficient the more they migrate

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5:18pm, August 30, 2013

THIS WAY PLEASE  Captive-bred whooping cranes get an escort for their first try at migration from an ultralight aircraft. On later migrations though, youngsters get a boost traveling with older birds.

Here’s a lesson on road trips from whooping cranes: For efficient migration, what matters is the age of the oldest crane in the group. These more experienced fliers nudge youngsters away from going off course on long flights.

“The older birds get, the closer they stick to the straight line,” says ecologist Thomas Mueller of the University of Maryland in College Park, who crunched data from 73 Grus americana migrating between Wisconsin and Florida.

One-year-olds traveling with other birds of the same age, the analysis says, tend to deviate about 76 kilometers from a direct route. But if they fly in a group with an 8-year-old crane, they stray 38 percent less, or about 47 kilometers, Mueller and his colleagues report in the August 30 Science.

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