Endangered Whooping Cranes Now In Tennessee On Aircraft-Guided Flight To Florida

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Eight young whooping cranes that began their aircraft-led migration on Oct. 2, from the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area in Green Lake County, Wisconsin, are now in Carrol County, Tn.  

Since Monday, they have flown 224 miles, spending just 24 hours in Kentucky, advancing to the first of two planned stops in Tennessee.  They arrived Tuesday on Nov. 19.

This is the 13th group of birds to take part in a project led by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), an international coalition of public and private groups that is reintroducing this highly imperilled species in eastern North America, part of its historic range. 

WCEP partner Operation Migration is using two ultralight aircraft to lead the juvenile cranes through Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia to reach the birds’ wintering habitat at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) along Florida's GulfCoast.

“Despite the fact that we have done this before, each year we learn something new about these wonderful birds,” said Joe Duff, CEO of Operation Migration and leader of the ultralight team. “This year's flock seems very attentive, and we hope to make better progress. Our target is to arrive in Florida before Christmas.”

In addition to the eight cranes being led south by ultralights, nine cranes were released October 24, at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Dodge County, Wis. The chicks were hatched and raised by costumed biologists with project partner International Crane Foundation. The juvenile cranes were released using the Direct Autumn Release (DAR) method, whereby they are released in the company of older cranes from whom the young birds will learn the migration route south. One of these juvenile cranes was recently found dead. Seven DAR birds remain in the Horicon area. 

Whooping cranes that take part in the ultralight and DAR reintroductions are hatched at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md., and at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wis. Chicks are raised under a strict isolation protocol, and to ensure the birds remain wild, handlers adhere to a no-talking rule and wear costumes designed to mask the human form.

The 16 aircraft-led and DAR chicks are joining one wild-hatched chick in the 2013 cohort. The wild-raised chick will follow its parents on migration. In addition to the seventeen juvenile cranes, about 100 whooping cranes are currently in the eastern migratory population.

The public is invited to follow the aircraft-guided Whooping cranes on Operation Migration’s live CraneCam, which broadcasts daily during flights and while the cranes are at each stopover location along the route to Florida. Visit: http://www.ustream.tv/migratingcranes to watch the video stream or http://operationmigration.org/InTheField for daily website postings.

Whooping cranes were on the verge of extinction in the 1940s. Today, there are only about 600 birds in existence, approximately 445 of those in the wild. Aside from the WCEP birds, the only other migratory population of whooping cranes nests at WoodBuffaloNational Park in northern Alberta, Canada and winters at Aransas NWR on the TexasGulfCoast. A non-migratory flock of approximately 20 birds lives year-round in the central Florida Kissimmee region, and an additional 17 non-migratory cranes live in southern Louisiana.

WCEP asks anyone who encounters a whooping crane in the wild to please give them the respect and distance they need. Do not attempt to feed or approach birds on foot within 200 yards; remain in your vehicle; do not approach in a vehicle any closer than 100 yards. Also, please remain concealed and do not speak loudly enough that the birds can hear you. Finally, do not trespass on private property in an attempt to view or photograph whooping cranes.

Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership founding members are the International Crane Foundation, Operation Migration, Inc., Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and National Wildlife Health Center, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, and the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team.

Many other flyway states, provinces, private individuals and conservation groups have joined forces with and support WCEP by donating resources, funding and personnel. More than 60 percent of the project’s budget comes from private sources in the form of grants, public donations and corporate sponsors.

To report whooping crane sightings, visit the WCEP whooping crane observation webpage at: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/whoopingcrane/sightings/sightingform.cfm.

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