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Two whooping cranes fly over St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge following the second ultralight aircraft. Photo by Terri Calleson, USFWS.

Ultralight-led whooping cranes complete fall migration to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida

ST MARKS, FL - Early this morning, seven young whooping cranes following two ultralight aircraft during a two-month migration landed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge where they will spend the winter.  They traveled 63 days and 1,100 miles from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin to St. Marks.

“After today’s destination flight lasting 50 minutes, our seven-month-old whooping cranes touched down for the first time on their new winter home,” said Heather Ray of Operation Migration.  “The birds trusted us. We had faith in them. We got it done. Once these birds undergo their final health check and receive permanent leg bands and transmitters in a week to 10 days they can be truly wild cranes - - wary of people and all things ‘human.’”

More than 500 people watched as the cranes flew over St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and landed.  Five cranes, all females, followed one ultralight.  Two cranes, a female, and the only male in the migration, followed the other.

“Our community gives the refuge and these yearly whooping crane arrivals a huge amount of support.  It’s a working day and a school day, and people stand outside for an hour and a half to see the cranes arrive,” said Robin Will of St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.  “The Operation Migration pilots are like rock stars, and after the migration, they stay and answer questions and sign autographs.  People come into the Visitor Center and tell us how much our conservation work with the whooping cranes means.”

This is the 14th group of birds to take part in a project led by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), an international coalition of public and private groups that is reintroducing this highly imperiled species in eastern North America, part of its historic range.

The two ultralight aircraft led the juvenile cranes from Wisconsin, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia to reach the birds’ wintering habitat at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge along Florida’s Gulf Coast. This year the cranes had to be trucked to Tennessee from Wisconsin, through Illinois and Kentucky, due to bad weather.

WCEP asks anyone who encounters a whooping crane in the wild to please give them the respect and distance they need. Do not attempt to feed them, or approach birds on foot within 200 yards; remain in your vehicle. Do not approach in a vehicle any closer than 100 yards. Also, please remain concealed and do not speak loudly enough that the birds can hear you. Finally, please do not trespass on private property in an attempt to view or photograph 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. For more information visit: http://www.bringbackthecranes.org

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 budget comes from private sources in the form of grants, public donations and corporate sponsors.

To report whooping crane sightings, visit the WCEP whooping crane observation webpage at: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/whoopingcrane/sightings/sightingform.cfm.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov/southeast. Connect with our [](http://www.facebook.com/usfwssoutheast) Facebook, follow our tweets, watch our YouTube Channel, and download photos from our Flickr page.

Contacts

Heather Ray, Operation Migration
920-573-0905 
heather@operationmigration.org.

Elsie Davis, Fish and Wildlife Service 
404-679-7107 
Elsie_Davis@fws.gov

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit fws.gov. Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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