Ultralight Pilot Who First Led Geese Dies
A wild-eyed Canadian artist, dreamer and ultralight pilot who inspired one of the world’s most unusual wildlife conservation efforts died Dec. 30 in his underground house in rural Ontario. Bill Lishman was 78. In 1985, he "imprinted" a flock of 12 Canada Geese he’d raised on his biplane ultralight. In 1988, he led them, in V formation, to winter in South Carolina. Five years later, he repeated the effort with 36 birds and caught the attention of those in the desperate fight to keep the Whooping Crane from extinction. Between 2001 and 2015, Operation Migration used costumed pilots flying ultralights to lead young cranes raised in captivity in Wisconsin to Florida. Unfortunately, it didn’t work that well because the artificially raised birds weren’t great parents and the operation was shut down by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2016.
Lishman, who had received a diagnosis of leukemia 10 days before his death, had the migration inspiration in 1985 and with the help of his remarkably resilient family raised the first brood of geese for his celebrated scheme. Migratory birds imprint on the first thing they see when they hatch and that was Lishman’s aircraft. His unusual story was the subject of the popular movie Fly Away Home in 1996. Lishman was a highly respected sculptor and artist and his works are on prominent display across Canada. He left behind Paula, his wife of 50 years, and three grown children.