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“Class of 2003” Endangered Whooping Cranes Begin Unassisted Migration



April 1, 2004

Joan Garland, International Crane Foundation, 608-356-9462 x142
Rachel F. Levin, US Fish and Wildlife Service, 612-713-5311
Bob Manwell, Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources, 608-264-9248
Molly Mehl, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, 608-565-4412
Tom MacKenzie, US Fish and Wildlife Service, 404-679-7291
Sarah Palmisano, Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, 352-563-2088 x210
Heather Ray, Operation Migration Inc., 800-675-2618

Half of the 16 whooping cranes from the ultralight-led “Class of 2003” have left their winter home at Florida’s Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, headed for their summer home in and around central Wisconsin’s Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.

Cranes 1, 3, 5, 9, 12, 16, 18 and 19 from the Class of 2003 left their pensite at Chassahowitzka NWR at 9:33 a.m. on March 30. They landed in Lowndes County, Georgia, at 4:25 that afternoon, logging a flight time of 6 hours and 52 minutes.

The remaining eight 2003 cranes, along with crane 14 from 2002, remain at the Chassahowitzka pensite.

Meanwhile, most cranes from 2001 and 2002 have begun their northward migrations. Four cranes, including hatch year 2001 number 6, and 2002 cranes numbers 9, 11 and 12, have already been confirmed in Wisconsin, on and around the reintroduction site at Necedah NWR. Only three cranes from 2002, numbers 1, 3 and 15, remain on their wintering habitat in Florida.

Biologists from the International Crane Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are actively tracking the cranes as they make their way north, and will continue to monitor the birds, along with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources biologists, when the whooping cranes are back in their summer locations.

The public can track the progress of the migrating cranes on the Web at

The cranes from 2003 were the third whooping crane flock led by Operation Migration’s ultralight aircraft from Necedah NWR to Chassahowitzka NWR, on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The juvenile cranes spent the winter in an open-topped release enclosure designed to ensure protection from potential predators, while allowing the young birds to still explore their winter salt marsh surroundings. The ultralight aircraft is only used during the cranes’ maiden fall migration.

The eight 2003 cranes that have begun their migration include the flock’s oldest and youngest cranes, as well as crane 3, which last year during training underwent surgery for a small leg fracture and did not fly in the ultralight-led fall migration until 244 miles into the journey.

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership is a consortium of non-profit organizations, government agencies and private landowners. WCEP founding members include the International Crane Foundation, Operation Migration Inc., Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource, 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 projects estimated $1.8 million budget comes from private sources in the form of grants, public donations and corporate sponsors.

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

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