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, Wi., made it to their destination at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Wakulla County, Fl.
These cranes are the 13th group to be guided by ultralight aircraft from central Wisconsin to the Gulf coast of Florida. The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), an international coalition of public and private organizations, is conducting the reintroduction project in an effort to restore this endangered species to part of its historic range in eastern North America. There are now 109 whooping cranes in the wild in eastern North America thanks to WCEP’s efforts.
“With 96 days on the road and 1101 miles of flight,” said Operation Migration spokesperson Liz Condie. “I can’t think of a better way to begin the New Year!”
WCEP partner Operation Migration used 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 Gulf Coast.
In addition to these eight whooping cranes, nine Direct Autumn Release birds and four experimental parent-reared birds were released this last fall in Wisconsin; of which seven remain alive.
Whooping cranes were on the verge of extinction in the 1940s. Today, there are about 600 birds in existence, about 450 of those in the wild. Aside from the WCEP birds, the only other migratory population of whooping cranes nests at Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta, Canada and winters at Aransas NWR on the Texas Gulf Coast. A non-migratory flock of approximately 20 birds lives year-round in the central Florida Kissimmee region, and an additional 33 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 them, 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, please 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.