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Ultralight-led Whooping Cranes Reach Tennessee in Second Historic Fall Migration


November 14, 2002

Tom MacKenzie, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (404) 679-7291
Heather Ray, Operation Migration, Inc. (905) 718-1292

Sixteen whooping cranes following four ultralight planes reached Tennessee today on their 1,250-mile fall migration from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin to Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge along Florida's central Gulf Coast. The birds left Necedah on October 13, and were delayed for several days in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky due to wind and rain before reaching Tennessee. The four ultralight pilots wear costumes to help keep the cranes from becoming accustomed to people.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service is proud to be a partner in this multi-year reintroduction project," said Sam D. Hamilton, the Service's Southeast Regional Director. "While weather continues to be a major challenge to the migration's progress, 16 birds are doing well at the halfway point of their trip."

For daily updates on the cranes' journey to Florida, please visit the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) website at

These sixteen whooping cranes are the second generation of birds to make an historic, assisted migration from Wisconsin to Florida. One crane, injured on the first day of the migration when the weather took a turn for the worse causing a mid-air collision, had to be euthanized after it did not respond to 12 days of treatment by veterinarians at the International Crane Foundation. In 2001, seven of the eight whooping cranes that began the pilot fall migration made it to Florida safely. Five of these seven birds survived the winter and made an unassisted, successful spring migration back to Wisconsin. One of the "class of 2001" has started to migrate south and is being monitored with a radio transmitter. It is currently in Northeastern Illinois.

This year's migration team transit through Tennessee is especially exciting thanks to efforts by Tennessee residents to support the project's efforts.

"The recent Whooping Cranes Over Tennessee 140-mile Walk-a-thon not only raised much needed funds for the project, it reflected the kind of local and state support this joint public-private project continues to enjoy," said Hamilton. "Public awareness of migratory bird conservation efforts was also broadened."

One of America's best known endangered species, the whooping crane is named for its loud, penetrating call. The majestic birds stand 5 feet tall and are pure white with black wing tips and a red crown. Whooping cranes live and breed in wetlands, where they feed upon crabs, clams, frogs, and other aquatics. Unregulated hunting and wetland destruction combined to cause the species' population decline.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a partner in the WCEP, an international coalition of public and private organizations that is spearheading this recovery initiative for the whooping crane, a federally listed endangered species. Today only about 260 whooping cranes remain in the wild. Except for the Wisconsin-Florida birds now migrating, the only other migrating flock of whooping cranes nests at the Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada's Northwest Territories and winters at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast. The goal of the WCEP is to establish a migrating flock of at least 125 birds including 25 adult breeding pairs, restoring the species to eastern North America.

A non-migrating flock of about 100 cranes remain year-round in central Florida, as part of an ongoing reintroduction study led by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Founding members of the WCEP include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the International Crane Foundation, the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team, Operation Migration, Inc., National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, U.S. Geological Survey's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and National Wildlife Health Center, and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Many other flyway states, provinces, private individuals, and conservation groups have joined forces with and support WCEP by donating resources, funding, and personnel.


Patuxent Wildlife Research Center on the Whooping Crane

Whooping Crane Reintroduction Project

Whooping Crane Photos

US Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species page

The photos below were taken last year by Jennifer L. Rabuck, Park Ranger, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (click on the smaller one to bring up larger dpi photo).
Whooping Cranes following behind an Ultralight

Whooping Cranes following behind an Ultralight

Whooping Cranes following behind an Ultralight

Whooping Cranes following behind an Ultralight

NOTE: You can view our releases or subscribe to receive them -- via e-mail -- at the Service's Southeast Regional home page at Our national home page is at:

Atlanta, GA 30345

Phone: 404/679-7289 Fax: 404/679-7286

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