Second flock of cranes whoops it up

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Second flock of cranes whoops it up

By Tim Renken, St. Louis Post Dispatch

04/18/2002

This could be a big week in the effort to create a second migratory flock of whooping cranes.

Five whoopers cranes, those remaining from the seven led by ultralight aircrafts to Florida from their natal marsh in Wisconsin last fall, left Florida last Tuesday to start their migration back home.

They did it by themselves _ no ultralight pilots in crane suits led them this time. In just under seven hours the little flock flew 217 miles before settling into a field next to a pond in southern Georgia.

If the cranes were winded, the people following them electronically had been holding their breath, figuratively, for almost seven hours.

The departure and flight was a monumental milestone for the birds after their four months at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. They showed that they have the software to migrate and that they know where to go.

Then they showed they have enough sense to spend the next two days waiting out a storm.

Tailed by two biologists, Anne Lacey of the International Crane Foundation and Richard Urbanek of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the birds continued their flight northward through Georgia.

Each bird is fitted with a radio transmitter, a leg band that sends signals to allow biologist to track their movements. Two members of the flock also wear satellite transmitters.

With hundreds of people on the ground watching for the birds, they should make their way this week and the next several across Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, and northern Illinois and halfway across Wisconsin, 1,218 miles total.

Everybody is hoping, of course, that all five get back to the Necedah Wildlife Refuge. The birds that do will be the beginning of the long-sought eastern flock of wild, migrating whoopers.

Whooping cranes, large and beautiful, are the poster children of the country's endangered species recovery effort.

In 1948 there were only 15 left in the wild of a species that probably never had been very numerous and had suffered greatly from habitat destruction and hunting for the millinery trade. That number by 1999 had been pushed to 180, but all were in a single flock that migrates between western Canada and the Texas Gulf Coast.

Fear that a single catastrophe could wipe out the whole flock led to the program for a second migrating flock, entirely separate, in the eastern U.S.

Experiments with similar but far more numerous sandhill cranes in the last two years developed methods used on whoopers last fall.

The present program is planned to continue for 20 years and include identical flights between Wisconsin and Florida, with or without the help of humans.

To watch their progress see www.bringbackthecranes.org.
 


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