December 1, 2005

Cranes Resume Migration After Windy Delay

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- After being grounded for five days by winds and rain at the Hiwassee State Wildlife Refuge, a flock of endangered whooping cranes resumed its migration from Wisconsin to Florida on Wednesday morning.

"It's been so breezy here the last few days," said Tom MacKenzie, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman. "There's something about the ridge line we've had problems with crossing over."

With better weather, the 19 birds left the refuge in Meigs County, about 30 miles northeast of Chattanooga, to continue their annual 1,200-mile journey from Wisconsin to Florida under the watch of Operation Migration, a Canadian wildlife group.

Adult whooping cranes can make the migration on their own, but volunteers flying ultralight aircraft lead youngsters along the route each year.

The delay this year isn't expected to harm the birds, which number fewer than 300 in the wild.

"We've had them take past Thanksgiving before, and it hasn't been adverse to the birds," MacKenzie said. "We're just making sure they have a secure environment. Some years you get bad weather, and this is one of them."

This flock started its migration Oct. 14 at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin and is traveling to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.