Seven whooping crane chicks arrived at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge today to begin conditioning in preparation for their fall migration behind ultralight aircraft.
The chicks were flown to Necedah by private airplane from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md., where they hatched. They departed from Baltimore, Md., at 9:17 a.m. Eastern time today and touched down smoothly in Wisconsin at precisely noon Central time. Following a quick vet check which showed that all of the birds were healthy, they were taken to their new home on the refuge, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The seven newly arrived cranes, Class of 2004 numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 8, will be joined later this month by more chicks that hatched at Patuxent. The entire group will comprise the fourth flock of juvenile cranes to take part in a project sponsored by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, a coalition of public and private groups that is organizing the effort to reintroduce whooping cranes in eastern North America, part of their historic range.
A field team from Operation Migration, Inc., and the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center will spend the summer conditioning the chicks to accept ultralight aircraft as their surrogate parents. Biologists from the International Crane Foundation will join the field team later this summer. This fall the team will guide the young cranes on their first southward migration, leading them by ultralight aircraft to Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s Gulf coast, the cranes’ winter home.
This year the field team will be joined by a special guest. Tatiana (Tania) Zhuchkova is an experienced aviculturist who works with endangered Siberian cranes at the Oka Reserve in Brykin Bor, Russia. She has joined the Operation Migration crew and will spend the summer at Patuxent and Necedah observing the conditioning process, and will travel with the crew on the fall migration. Zhuchkova will return to her native land with knowledge to share with her colleagues working to conserve Siberian cranes in western Asia.
As the new young birds are being conditioned, biologists continue to monitor the veteran cranes from the Classes of 2001, 2002 and 2003 who have returned from Florida on their own. Most of these cranes are spending the summer on public and private lands in the central Wisconsin area. There are currently 36 whooping cranes in the wild as a result of these first three migration flights.
Eight of the whooping cranes from the Class of 2003 remain in central and southern Michigan, where they are being monitored closely after having gotten off course off course during their first unassisted migration due primarily to weather.
The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership thanks Windway Capital Corporation for donating its plane and pilot to transport the crane chicks from Patuxent.
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 1,000 feet; try to remain in your vehicle; do not approach in a vehicle within 1,000 feet or, if on a public road, within 500 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 chicks that take part in the reintroduction project are hatched at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. There, the young cranes are introduced to ultralight aircraft and raised in isolation from humans. To ensure the impressionable cranes remain wild, project biologists and pilots adhere to a strict no-talking rule, broadcast recorded crane calls and wear costumes designed to mask the human form whenever they are around the cranes.
New classes of cranes are transported to Necedah NWR each June and begin a summer of conditioning behind the ultralights to prepare them for their fall migration. Pilots lead the birds on gradually longer training flights at the refuge throughout the summer until the young cranes are deemed ready to follow the aircraft along the migration route.
Most of the “graduated classes” of whoopers spend much of their time during the summer in central Wisconsin. They also use state and private lands. It is not unusual for yearling cranes to wander, especially if they are not associating with any male flockmates, which typically select the future breeding territory.
Project staff from the International Crane Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service track and monitor the reintroduced cranes in an effort to learn as much as possible about their unassisted journeys and the habitat choices they make along the way. These biologists, along with others from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources continue to monitor the cranes while they are in their summer locations.
Whooping cranes were on the verge of extinction in the 1940s. Today, there are only about 275 birds in the wild. Aside from the 36 Wisconsin-Florida birds, the only other migrating population of whooping cranes nests at the Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada and winters at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast. A non-migrating flock of approximately 100 birds lives year-round in the central Florida Kissimmee region.
Whooping cranes, named for their loud and penetrating unison calls, live and breed in wetland areas, where they feed on crabs, clams, frogs and aquatic plants. They are distinctive animals, standing five feet tall, with white bodies, black wing tips and red crowns on their heads.
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.
Educators and students are encouraged to visit Journey South for information and curriculum materials related to the whooping crane project: http://www.learner.org/jnorth/spring2004/crane/index.html
WCEP informational materials will be available at all Wild Birds Unlimited affiliates. To find the location nearest you please visit: http://www.wbu.com