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Three Reintroduced Eastern Whooping Cranes are the First to Reach Florida in Unassisted Fall Migration


November 17, 2003

Rachel F. Levin, WCEP/USFWS, 612-713-5311 or 612-309-5760 (cell)
Tom MacKenzie, USFWS Southeast Region 404-679-7291 or 678-296-6400 (cell)

Where are they going? That must have been the question on the trackers' minds as two female whooping cranes flew to South Dakota this summer. But confusion has turned into wonder as these two cranes were among the first to complete their unassisted 2003 fall migration from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin to Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.

The two females landed to roost in Marion County, Florida on November 15, before arriving at Chassahowitzka Refuge on Sunday, November 16. These cranes made the trip, their first unassisted migration from Wisconsin to Florida, in only a week. A third crane, a male, roosted in Levy County, Florida on November 15, and is now in Pasco County.

The three whooping cranes are part of a Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) project which began in the fall of 2001 to establish a wild migrating flock of whooping cranes in eastern North America. They all have migrated south at least once, the first time following an ultralight aircraft piloted by Operation Migration pilots. The two females at Chassahowitzka, Numbers 3 and 15, were from the last year's Class of 2002, and this is the first time they have migrated from Wisconsin to Florida independently. The male crane, Number 1 from the class of 2001, made his first unassisted migration last year.

"This works!" said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Sixteen of the other seventeen cranes from the classes of 2001 and 2002 are enroute to Florida too. This proves that we can reintroduce this most endangered of cranes into eastern North America and train them to migrate independently."

Only one crane, a female Number 14, from the Class of 2002 has yet to begin her migration from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.

Follow the progress of these wild cranes southward by going to

The goal of the WCEP reintroduction project is to establish a migrating flock of 125 birds, including 25 breeding pairs, in eastern North America by 2020. All of the whooping crane chicks that take part in this reintroduction project are hatched at the U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland.

On October 16, 2003, a third flock of sixteen whooping cranes left Necedah National Wildlife Refuge on an ultralight-led migration. From Wisconsin, they flew through parts of Illinois and Indiana. Fog and rain has temporarily halted their progress in Kentucky, and they have been in Adair County for several days. To date, the cranes have traveled 600 miles of their 1, 228-mile migration. They will go through parts of Tennessee and Georgia, before reaching Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.

The WCEP is a consortium of non-profit organizations and government agencies. Founding members are the International Crane Foundation, Operation Migration, Inc. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and National Wildlife Health Center, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, International Whooping Crane Recovery Team, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. More than 60 percent of the estimated $1.8 million budget for the reintroduction project comes in the form of grants, donations, and corporate sponsors.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 542 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.


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