October 17, 2008

Young Cranes Begin Guided Migration

Fourteen young whooping cranes began their first migration Friday from Wisconsin to Florida, although two made the first stage of the trip by truck.

The birds are being escorted by Operation Migration, which uses ultra-light planes to guide them.

The group said that eight birds took off from the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge at 8 a.m., watched by a crowd of enthusiasts. Most of the rest eventually made the 4-mile first stage with some encouragement.

By the time they get to Florida, the cranes will be flying at least 50 miles a day.

Whooping cranes, the tallest North American birds, are a ground-nesting species that was hit hard by loss of habitat. By 1941, only 21 cranes were known to remain in the wild, and only one nesting area, in Alberta, Canada, remained.

The species was re-established at the Necedah refuge in 2001. The chicks are raised using dummy hand puppets and then guided through their first migration.

Some chicks have survived every year to return to Wisconsin except in 2007, when a storm killed all the yearling cranes.