Joe Duff - Annual Whooping Crane Festival in Port Aransas, Texas

Joe Duff, Co-Founder and CEO, Operation Migration

Presentation: A Bird’s-eye View of the Recovery of Whooping Cranes

Bio: Before Joe Duff became involved in conservation, he was a commercial photographer. He uses that talent to illustrate his 20+ years of flying with birds and plots the history of the Whooping Cranes’ slow recovery from the brink of extinction. Lead pilot and co-founder of Operation Migration, Joe accumulated more hours in flight alongside more species of birds than any other person.

Joe joined Bill Lishman in 1993 and helped him conduct the first human-led bird migration. They used two ultralight aircraft to lead 18 Canada geese from Ontario to Virginia. The success of that initial study led to the founding of Operation Migration the following year and the making of “Fly Away Home” in 1995.

Their migration studies with non-endangered Sandhill cranes helped set the protocol for the reintroduction of Whooping cranes into the eastern flyway. Operation Migration is a founding member of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), which is a consortium of nine Federal, State and private agencies that manages the Eastern Migratory Population.

Joe headed the team of pilots who annually led a new generation of Whooping Cranes on their 1200+ mile migration from Wisconsin to Florida. The image of an ancient species following a modern aircraft generated worldwide attention and was featured on programs like National Geographic, ABC News 20/20, CBS News 60 Minutes and others. It has been the subject of several books. One of their aircraft is on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, another hangs in Disney’s Animal Kingdom and a third is scheduled for display in the Museum of the Experimental Aircraft Association in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

There are now over one hundred Whooping cranes migrating in the eastern flyway, the first since the last nest was reported in Wisconsin in 1878. Although they are no longer flying with the birds, Joe and Operation Migration continue to work with Whooping cranes to ensure that this population becomes self-sustaining.

LOCATION: Port Aransas Community Center