Whooping cranes are very rare birds. In 1941, only 15 were left in the last wild flock in North America. But today, the cranes are making a comeback with the help of a variety of conservation initiatives, including the breeding and training programs at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland and the International Crane Foundation in Wisconsin. To help ensure the survival of whoopers, they make a decision to try a bold experiment, which they call Operation Migration. Ten chicks from an artificial breeding program are chosen as pioneers to start a new flock. They have never seen an adult of their own kind, and must be taught everything there is to know about becoming a successful adult whooping crane.
Their teachers are humans disguised as cranes, who care for them every day until they are ready to learn to fly. Then, trained to follow an ultralight aircraft as they would a flock leader, the birds set off for Florida on their first migratory journey. No one knows what to expect. It is a trip marked by excitement, perils and heartbreak. But success is crucial. For they are on a mission that could save their species.