News Releases

Just Ahead of the Ultralight-led Cranes, Wild Whooping Crane Completes Fall Migration

The first of eastern North America’s new migratory flock of wild whooping cranes has arrived at its winter home in Florida, as the younger, ultralight-led cranes continued making progress on their first southward migration. The birds are part of an effort by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) to establish a self-sustaining wild, migrating flock of whooping cranes in eastern North America.

Biologists tracking the migrating whoopers found crane 14 from the Class of 2002 at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge on November 16. She was the first of the wild birds bird to reach Florida.

The now wild cranes were joined by a new traveling companion—crane 18-04, the first young whooper to be conditioned behind the ultralight aircraft but introduced among older birds to learn the migration route. Crane 18-04 was not able to complete the necessary conditioning to begin the ultralight-led migration on October 10.

This preliminary effort in 2004 will help prepare for supplemental releases in subsequent years. For more information about the supplemental release technique, go to

The five whooping cranes from the Class of 2003 that spent the summer in Michigan are also on their way south for their first unassisted fall migration. Four of them made history once again when they detoured through South Carolina, spending some time on Cape Romain NWR, along the Atlantic coast, before heading north into North Carolina. This is the first time whooping cranes have been in South Carolina in more than a century. The remains of one of the four, number 5-03, were found on Cape Romain NWR on Nov. 16. An investigation into the cause of death is ongoing.

In 2001, project partner Operation Migration’s pilots led the first whooping crane chicks, conditioned to follow their ultralight surrogates south from Necedah NWR to Chassahowitzka NWR on Florida’s Gulf Coast. In 2002, WCEP biologists and pilots conditioned and guided a second group of juvenile cranes to Chassahowitzka NWR.

In the fall of 2003, WCEP conducted its third ultralight-led migration. Those cranes have begun returning to their summer home in central Wisconsin, and there are now 35 whooping cranes in the wild in eastern North America.

WCEP asks anyone who encounters a whooping crane in the wild to please give them the respect and distance they need. Do not approach birds on foot within 600 feet; try to remain in your vehicle; do not approach in a vehicle within 600 feet or, if on a public road, within 300 feet. Also, please remain concealed and do not speak loudly enough that the birds can hear you. Finally, do not trespass on private property in an attempt to view whooping cranes.

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, an international coalition of public and private groups, is organizing the effort to reintroduce this highly imperilled species in eastern North America, which was a part of its historic range.

Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership founding members include 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.

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 estimated $1.8 million budget comes from private sources in the form of grants, public donations and corporate sponsors.

For more information on the project, its partners, and how you can help, visit the WCEP website at