The story of the flying machine in our Queens’ Lantern
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s the …. Goose Leader!
The ultralight aircraft suspended in the Museum’s glass tower—officially called the Queens’ Lantern—was flown by Canadian inventor and artist Bill Lishman to lead Canada Geese to a migration route.
You may recall the 1996 movie, Fly Away Home, starring Jeff Daniels, which was inspired by Lishman’s story and his book, Father Goose.
Lishman had always dreamed of flying with the birds. Migrating birds learn this skill by following their parents. The natural phenomenon of imprinting—where birds recognize the first objects they see in life as their parent—was the motivation for Lishman to experiment with goslings and flight.
In 1993, Lishman led a flock of 18 Canada Geese on a route from Ontario to Virginia. This was an initial research study with non-endangered waterfowl to test the viability of introducing new migration routes to endangered species. The following year, this endeavour was successfully repeated to South Carolina (double the distance!) with double the number of birds.
Lishman and photographer/ultralight pilot, Joseph Duff, subsequently co-founded Operation Migration, a non-profit organization dedicated to reintroducing endangered bird species to safe migration routes.
Since 2001, Operation Migration has worked with The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership to help restore a migratory flock of Whooping Cranes to eastern North America.
Although a flock of nearly 100 ultralight-led Whooping Cranes now migrate between Wisconsin and Florida, the U.S. government announced in January 2016 that it was ending its support for the program. Experts in crane biology argued that the human interaction was having a negative effect on the birds’ ability to raise their chicks. The flock would not be self-sustaining.
2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Convention between Canada and the United States. The treaty protects migratory birds, their eggs and their nests from hunting, trafficking and commercialization.
The Museum’s Bird Gallery showcases beautiful specimens of migratory birds, such as the endangered Whooping Crane, the Trumpeter Swan, and, of course, the Canada goose.
Lishman’s ultralight will hang in the Museum until early December 2016. Be sure to visit the Queens’ Lantern to see the aircraft and imagine just what it would have been like to fly with the birds.