Three yearling whooping cranes that had been trying to make their way “home” since March finally returned to Wisconsin after three months in central, west-central and southwestern Michigan. Cranes 3, 12 and 16 of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership’s Class of 2003, arrived in central Wisconsin on July 26 and were discovered near Necedah National Wildlife Refuge on July 28. They had last been seen in Berrien County, Mich.
At the same time, a 2-year old whooping crane, introduced during the 2002 project year, was confirmed in south-central Michigan, foraging with a group of sandhill cranes. Crane number 1-02 had been unaccounted for since April 5. She departed northward from her wintering location in Lake County, Fla., on April 6.
The rare cranes are part of an effort being carried out by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) to reintroduce this endangered species to the eastern half of North America, which was a portion of its historic range.
Cranes 3-03, 12-03 and 16-03 followed ultralight aircraft on their first southward migration last fall. They departed from their winter home at Chassahowitzka NWR in Florida on March 30, intent on retracing the migration route they had learned, and arriving at their summer training grounds at Wisconsin’s Necedah NWR. However, the three, along with five flockmates, encountered human interference and poor weather, which took them well east of their intended destination. After spending time in northern Ohio, the eight cranes split into two groups and flew into Michigan.
The three recently returned cranes; two females and a male, were last reported in Berrien County in the southwestern corner of Michigan on July 23. Biologists believe passing cold front—and the propensity of the two females to wander—may have contributed to the group’s ability to finally circumvent Lake Michigan by flying around its south shore.
Local residents observed crane 1-02 foraging with a group of sandhill cranes. WCEP trackers will work with local partners and volunteers to monitor her behavior and location.
The remains of one of the other Michigan cranes, number 19-03, were discovered in west-central Michigan on July 30 at the cranes roost location. Biologists speculate that number 19 was killed by a coyote or other predator. Its remains will be examined by wildlife forensics experts to determine the exact cause of death.
Led by Operation Migration pilots, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership has conducted three ultralight-guided whooping crane migrations since 2001, and as a result there are now 35 wild whooping cranes 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 and deserve. Do not approach birds on foot within 600 feet; where possible 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, please do not trespass on private property in an attempt to view these whooping cranes.
Project staff from the International Crane Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service track and monitor northbound and southbound whooping cranes in an effort to learn as much as possible about their unassisted migrations, and the habitat choices they make along the way. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources assists the two agencies in monitoring the birds while at their summer locations.
WCEP founding members:
International Crane, Foundation
Operation Migration, Inc.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and National Wildlife Health Center
International Whooping Crane Recovery Team
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin
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.