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First Whooping Cranes of the "Class of 2010"
Arrive at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge



July 1, 2010



Joan Garland, 608-381-1262
Dan Peterson, 608-565-4412


Seven whooping crane chicks arrived yesterday at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in central Wisconsin to begin preparation for their fall migration behind ultralight aircraft.


The seven chicks are members of the “Class of 2010”, which will be the tenth group of endangered whooping cranes to take part in a project conducted by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), a coalition of public and private organizations that is reintroducing a migratory flock of whooping cranes in eastern North America, part of their historic range.  Thanks to WCEP’s efforts, there are now 100 wild cranes in this population. 


The chicks comprise the first cohort of young whooping cranes to arrive by private aircraft from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md., where the birds hatched and learned to follow costumed biologists and ultralight aircraft on the ground.  Following medical examinations that showed that all of the birds were healthy, they were shipped to Necedah NWR in large crates, in aircraft provided by Windway Capital Corp.  A quick check by veterinarians upon arrival showed that the birds were ready for their new home on Necedah NWR.  One more cohort of chicks will be shipped from Patuxent to Necedah NWR next week.


A field team from Operation Migration, Inc. and the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center will spend the summer strengthening the social cohesion of the flock and teaching them to fly behind the ultralights.  This fall, Operation Migration will use ultralights to guide the young cranes on their first southward migration to Florida, the cranes’ winter home.


"The dedicated crane staff at Patuxent has produced, raised and trained a very healthy group of chicks to follow the ultralights this year, with the expert help of volunteers from Disney Wild Kingdom and our usual local volunteers,” said John French, research manager for the whooping crane program at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.  “As every year, we could not accomplish this without the partnership of Operation Migration and FWS Patuxent Research Refuge, on whose land we work."  


In 2001, WCEP project partner Operation Migration’s pilots led the first whooping crane chicks, conditioned to follow their ultralight aircraft surrogates, south from Necedah NWR to Chassahowitzka NWR in Florida.  Each subsequent year, WCEP biologists and pilots have conditioned and guided additional groups of juvenile cranes to Florida. Having been shown the way once, the young birds initiate their return migration in the spring, and in subsequent years, continue to migrate on their own.  In 2008, St. Marks NWR along Florida’s Gulf Coast was added as an additional wintering site for the juvenile cranes. 


In addition to the ultralight-led birds, biologists from the International Crane Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rear whooping crane chicks at Necedah NWR and release them in the company of older cranes from whom the young birds learn the migration route.  This is the sixth year WCEP has used this Direct Autumn Release method. 


The ultralight-led and DAR chicks are this year joining five wild-hatched chicks in the 2010 cohort.  The wild-hatched chicks face a precarious existence in the first weeks of their lives, and natural loss of some chicks due to predation is not unexpected.  WCEP has high hopes for many of these wild crane chicks surviving to fledge and accompanying their parents on the fall migration to the wintering grounds.


Whooping cranes that take part in the ultralight and Direct Autumn Release reintroductions are hatched at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md., and at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wis.  Chicks are raised under a strict isolation protocol and to ensure the birds remain wild, handlers adhere to a no-talking rule and wear costumes designed to mask the human form.


In the spring and fall, project staff from the International Crane Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service track and monitor the released cranes in an effort to learn as much as possible about their unassisted journeys and the habitat choices they make both along the way and on their summering and wintering grounds.


Most of the whooping cranes released in previous years spend the summer in central Wisconsin, where they use areas on or near Necedah NWR, as well as other public and private lands.


Whooping cranes were on the verge of extinction in the 1940s. Today, there are only about 550 birds in existence, approximately 400 of them in the wild. Aside from the 100 WCEP birds, the only other migrating population of whooping cranes nests at Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta, Canada and winters at Aransas NWR on the Texas Gulf Coast.  A non-migrating flock of approximately 30 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 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 200 yards; remain in your vehicle; do not approach in a vehicle within 100 yards.  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 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.


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.





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