Sure Sign of Spring: Wild Whooping Cranes Return to Wisconsin
Biologists with the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), which is coordinating an effort to return migrating whooping cranes to eastern North America, announced today that 15 reintroduced whooping cranes had arrived on or near Necedah NWR, and two others were roosting along the Wisconsin River.
Thanks to the efforts of WCEP, an international coalition of public and private groups, there are now 64 endangered whooping cranes in the wild in eastern North America, which was part of their historic range.
The newly arrived whooping cranes represent the migration “classes” of 2001 through 2004, which were guided southward by ultralight aircraft their fledging grounds at Necedah NWR to their winter habitat at Chassahowitzka NWR on the Gulf coast of Florida.
The most recent ultralight-reintroduced cranes, the Class of 2005, remain at their pensite at Chassahowitzka. These birds have begun taking short evening flights in the immediate area of the pen. The 19 birds of the Class of 2005 arrived in Florida on Dec. 13, 2005, after a 64-day migration.
In addition to the 19 chicks that migrated behind ultralights in 2005, biologists from the International Crane Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also released four additional chicks last fall into the company of older birds at Necedah NWR, in the hopes that the chicks would learn the migration route from adult whoopers or sandhill cranes.
WCEP is using this “direct autumn release” technique to complement the known success of the ultralight-led migrations. Chicks for direct autumn release will be reared in the field and released with older birds after fledging, or developing their flight feathers. This method of reintroduction has been extensively tested and proven successful with sandhill cranes.
As of March 24, two of the 2005 direct autumn release birds had embarked on migration and were in Indiana; the other two remain in Florida.
WCEP asks anyone who encounters whooping cranes in the wild to please give them the respect and distance they need. Do not approach birds on foot within 600 feet and try to remain in your vehicle. Do not approach cranes in a vehicle within 600 feet or, if on a public road, within 300 feet. 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 whooping cranes.
In 2001, project partner Operation Migration’s pilots first led whooping crane chicks conditioned to follow their ultralight surrogates south from Necedah NWR to Chassahowitzka NWR. Each subsequent year, WCEP biologists and pilots have conditioned and guided additional groups of juvenile cranes to Chassahowitzka NWR.
The whooping crane chicks
that take part in the reintroduction project are hatched at the U.S.
Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research
Center in Laurel, Md., where they are introduced to ultralight aircraft
and raised in isolation from humans. To ensure the impressionable cranes
remain wild, project biologists and pilots adhere to a strict no-talking
rule, and use recorded adult crane calls to communicate with the young
birds. Researchers wear costumes designed to mask the human form whenever
they are around the cranes.
Project staff from the International Crane Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service track and monitor southbound cranes in an effort to learn as much as possible about their unassisted migrations and the habitat choices they make along the way. ICF and FWS biologists, along with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources biologists, track the cranes as they make their way north, and continue to monitor the birds while they are in their summer locations.
In the first four years of the project, returning whooping cranes have used wetlands in 35 of 72 Wisconsin counties, primarily within the lower two-thirds of the state along major rivers and wetlands. In addition to the core reintroduction area of Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, the birds’ increased use of wetlands along the lower Wisconsin River and in more than 15 state wildlife areas, private wetlands and Horicon NWR demonstrates the value of preserved habitat to the success of this restoration effort.
Whooping cranes were on the verge of extinction in the 1940s. Today,
only about 300 birds exist in the wild. Aside from the 64 Wisconsin-Florida
birds, the only other migrating population of whooping cranes nests at
the Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada
and winters at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf
Coast. A non-migrating flock of approximately 60 birds lives year-round
in the central Florida Kissimmee region.
can view our releases or subscribe to receive them -- via e-mail --
at the Service's Southeast Regional home page at http://southeast.fws.gov.
Our national home page is at: http://news.fws.gov/newsreleases/.Atlanta,