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WHOOPING CRANES TO FOLLOW AIRCRAFT ON MIGRATION ROUTE
You may remember last year's
success story on a flock of sandhill cranes that made a long journey to
wintering grounds, thanks to a airplane that lead the way. The mission,
which traveled into east Tennessee, was quite a venture and it's now going
to hopefully benefit some other feathered friends.
Whooping cranes will migrate across the skies of eastern North America
this fall for the first time in more than a century as part of a bold
experiment conducted by a partnership of Federal and state wildlife
agencies, conservation groups and other private organizations led by the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Biologists will train a flock of about 10 young whooping cranes, which are
listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, to follow an
ultralight aircraft across seven states from Necedah National Wildlife
Refuge (NWR) in Wisconsin to Chassahowitska NWR in Florida.
If all goes as planned, the birds will learn the migration route during
the trip and return from Florida to Wisconsin on their own next spring,
thereby establishing a second migratory whooping crane flock in North
Currently 174 whooping cranes migrate annually between wintering areas at
Aransas NWR in Texas to nesting areas at Wood Buffalo National Park in the
Northwest Territories of Canada. Biologists long have been concerned that
this population might be wiped out by a natural event such as a hurricane
or a human-caused disaster such as a chemical or oil spill.
Reintroducing a second migratory population in the East will provide
insurance against such a disaster and move the species closer to recovery.
The whooping crane, named for its loud and penetrating mating call, is one
of America's best known and rarest endangered species. Cranes live and
breed in extensive wetlands, where they feed upon crabs, clams, frogs, and
other aquatic organisms. Whooping cranes stand 5 feet tall and are pure
white in color with black wing tips and a red crown.
Biologists believe the species numbered in the thousands in North American
at one time but loss of wetland habitat, hunting, and egg and specimen
collecting brought about a sharp decline in the species. By 1890, no
migratory whooping cranes remained in eastern North America, and by the
1940s the species was on the verge of extinction.
Today, as a result of an ongoing recovery program, 260 whooping cranes
exist in the wild. This includes a reintroduced non-migratory flock of
approximately 86 birds that lives year round in central Florida.
Biologists will commence the experiment in early July when approximately
10 whooping crane chicks raised at the U.S. Geological Survey's Patuxent
Wildlife Research Center will be transferred to Necedah NWR. The birds
will undergo three months of specialized training with ultralights, using
the same techniques used successfully last year with a flock of sandhill
cranes that were taught to fly the same migration route.
is a professional hunting and fishing guide here in the Paris Landing
area and host of The Outdoor Channel's television series IN-PURSUIT.