Led by Aircraft, Cranes Reach Finish Line of Migration

Cameron Walker
for National Geographic News
December 19, 2006

This morning a group of endangered whooping cranes led by ultralight planes completed their 1,234-mile (1,985-kilometer) winged migration from Wisconsin to central Florida (map of the route).

"They've arrived," said Liz Condie, spokesperson for Operation Migration, a nonprofit group based in Port Perry, Ontario, Canada (Canada map).

"It's all over but the crying."

Seventeen of the 18 birds in the migration flew over a crowd of hundreds at Florida's Dunnellon/Marion County Airport before reaching their final destination of Halpata Tastanaki Preserve.

On Monday's flight four chicks dropped out of the day's journey. Three were found yesterday, but one crane is still missing.

This is the sixth year that captive-reared whooping cranes have learned their migration route with the help of pilots and ground crew.

Operation Migration's work is part of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, a team of U.S. and Canadian government agencies and private groups. Through captive breeding, guided migration, tracking, and other research, the partnership is trying create a new migratory, eastern-U.S. population of the species.

The whooping crane is listed as endangered on the U.S. government's endangered species list.

Long-Haul Flight

This year's migration took the group 76 days, the longest in the ultralight-led migration's six-year history.

The 18 cranes and four ultralights took off from Wisconsin's Necedah National Wildlife Refuge on October 5—the earliest departure for this migration since the annual Operation Migration trips began in 2001.

During the migration, bad weather often kept the cranes grounded. In late November the group spent nine consecutive days earthbound in Tennessee, waiting for the winds to allow the birds to cross the route's most significant hurdle, a 2,800-foot-tall (850-meter-tall) section of the Cumberland Plateau.

Continued on Next Page >>


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