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Sixteen Ultra light-led Whooping Cranes Reach Florida in Second Historic Fall Migration
Three of five "Class of 2001" reach winter home on their own.


November 27, 2002

Tom MacKenzie, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (404) 679-7291 Cell: (678) 296-6400
Heather Ray, Operation Migration Inc. (905) 718-1292
Shawn Gillette, Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge (352) 563-2088 ext 205


Sixteen whooping cranes following four Ultra light aircraft reached Florida 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. They are only 167 miles from their winter home.

The birds left Necedah on October 13 and were delayed for several days in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky, but sped across Georgia with favorable winds and weather. The 16 whooping cranes have flown south from Terrell County, Georgia, and have now crossed into Hamilton County, Florida on November 27. All 16 birds are doing well.

“The reintroduction is working fabulously,” said Sam D. Hamilton, the Service’s Southeast Regional Director. “Not only have a large number of birds successfully followed the ultra lights this year, but last year’s flock of whooping cranes are hitting their marks as if on cue.”

The 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 and did not respond to 12 days of treatment by veterinarians at the International Crane Foundation and had to be euthanized. 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.

Three of the five original seven whooping cranes from the “Class of 2001" are in their wintering location at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, FL. The remaining two are more than halfway there, currently just north of Chattanooga, TN at the Hiwassee Wildlife Management Area.

The four ultra light pilots from Operation Migration Inc. wear whooping crane costumes to help keep the birds from becoming accustomed to people. Their special aircraft are equipped with whooping crane recordings to encourage the birds along their long flight.

One of America’s best known endangered species, the whooping crane is named for its loud, penetrating call. The majestic birds stand five 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 Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership was established in 1998 and given the task of establishing a second migratory population of whooping cranes. Composed of public agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, states along the flyway, and private organizations such as the International Crane Foundation and Operation Migration - which flies the ultra lights. The Partnership has worked long and hard to plan, organize and initiate the Whooping Crane Reintroduction Project.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a proud partner in the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, 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 North America 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 partnership is to establish a southern migrating flock of at least 25 adult breeding pairs, restoring the species in part of its historic range. 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 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 the partnership by donating resources, funding, and personnel.

Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership is a consortium of private organizations, government agencies and private donors working to reintroduce a migratory flock of whooping cranes back into eastern North America. More than 60 percent of the project's estimated $1.8 million per year budget comes from private sources in the form of grants, donations and corporate sponsors.

For more information on the sixteen birds currently being led to Florida, see the project's web site at

For recent pictures go to:

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