Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
Wild Whooping Cranes Returning to Wisconsin for Summer Season
Midwest Region, March 16, 2007
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE            Contacts:         Rachel F. Levin, 612-713-5311

March 16, 2007                                                           Joan Garland, 608-381-1262

WCEP 07-01                                                              


Wild Whooping Cranes Returning to Wisconsin for Summer Season


The winter snows have not yet melted, but wild whooping cranes are already returning to their summer nesting grounds in central Wisconsin.


The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), which is coordinating an effort to return migrating whooping cranes to eastern North America, reports that two reintroduced whooping cranes have arrived at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.


On Sunday, March 11, WCEP received several reports from members of the public about whooping cranes sighted in Dane and Kenosha counties in southern Wisconsin.  Biologists at Necedah refuge picked up the radio signals of cranes 7 and 13 from the ultralight-led Class of 2003 on March 12. Crane 13-03, a female, was observed with two sandhill cranes by an International Crane Foundation biologist. 


Number 13-03 had been wintering alone on Goose Pond State Fish and Wildlife Area in Greene County, Ind., through January.  Number 7-03, a male, had last been reported in Alachua County, Fla., with cranes from the Class of 2005.  He departed Florida on March 8.


These cranes were guided southward by project partner Operation Migration’s ultralight aircraft in the fall of 2003 from Necedah NWR to Chassahowitzka NWR on the Gulf coast of Florida.  Thanks to the efforts of WCEP, an international coalition of public and private groups, there are now 62 endangered whooping cranes in the wild in eastern North America, which was part of their historic range.


At least 17 other reintroduced whooping cranes in the reintroduced Eastern migratory population have begun their spring migration, including cranes 11-02 and17-02 and their offspring W1-06, the first wild crane hatched in the Midwest in more than a century.


Most reintroduced whooping cranes in the Eastern migratory population spend the summer in central Wisconsin, where they use areas on or near the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, as well as state and private lands.


“For more than 100 years, the call of the whooper was absent in Wisconsin,” said Signe Holtz, director of the Bureau of Endangered Resources at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, “but now, thanks to the dedication and generosity of project partners, businesses and individuals, we have a chance to hear that call again in the skies and over the rivers and wetlands of Wisconsin.


"The past year saw great success as the project’s first wild-hatched chick survived to successfully migrate south and the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board unanimously approved the Wisconsin Whooping Crane Management Plan. There also was sadness at losing birds to storms on their winter range. But like the return of spring, the resilience of the partnership and the birds themselves continue to take this effort forward,” Holtz said.


In 2001, Operation Migration’s pilots led the first 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. 


In addition to the ultralight-led birds, four cranes made their first southward migration this fall as part of WCEP’s Direct Autumn Release program.  Biologists from the International Crane Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reared the four cranes at Necedah NWR and released them in the company of older cranes from whom the young birds would learn the migration route. 


This is the second year WCEP has used the Direct Autumn Release method, which supplements the success of the ultralight migrations.  The four 2006 Direct Autumn Release birds arrived at their wintering grounds in Florida on Dec. 8.


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.  There, the young cranes 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, broadcast recorded crane calls and wear costumes designed to mask the human form whenever they are around the cranes. 


New classes of cranes are brought to Necedah NWR each June to begin a summer of conditioning behind the ultralights to prepare them for their fall migration.  Pilots lead the birds on gradually longer training flights at the refuge throughout the summer until the young cranes are deemed ready to follow the aircraft along the migration route.


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.  The birds are monitored during the winter in Florida and tracked as they make their way north in the spring.  ICF and Fish and Wildlife Service biologists, along with Wisconsin DNR biologists, continue to monitor the birds while they are in their summer locations.


Whooping cranes were on the verge of extinction in the 1940s. Today, there are only about 500 birds in existence, 350 of them in the wild. Aside from the 62 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 45 birds lives year-round in the central Florida Kissimmee region.  The remaining 150 whooping cranes are in captivity in zoos and breeding facilities around North America.


Whooping cranes, named for their loud and penetrating unison calls, live and breed in wetland areas, where they feed on crabs, clams, frogs and aquatic plants. They are distinctive animals, standing five feet tall, with white bodies, black wing tips and red crowns on their heads.


WCEP asks anyone who encounters a whooping crane in the wild to please give them the respect and distance they need. Do not approach birds on foot within 200 yards; try to remain in your vehicle; do not approach in a vehicle within 100 yards.  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.


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 estimated $1.8 million annual budget comes from private sources in the form of grants, public donations and corporate sponsors.


For more information on the project, its partners and how you can help, visit the WCEP Web site at http://www.bringbackthecranes.org.


Educators and students are encouraged to visit Journey North for information and curriculum materials related to the whooping crane project: http://www.learner.org/jnorth/crane/index.html



Contact Info: Larry Dean, 612-713-5312, Larry_Dean@fws.gov
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