Ten young whooping cranes have completed more than three-quarters of their migration from Wisconsin to Florida.
They flew into Florida from Georgia on Friday, Dec. 10, and landed in Jefferson County. Only 6 to 7 months old, the cranes have now traveled 979 miles and have another 306 to go. Half of the cranes will be finished sooner, though.
Five cranes, selected by sex, genetics and flight behavior, will be led to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, launching from this stopover on Saturday, Dec. 11, if weather permits.
This is the 10th group of birds to take part in a landmark project led by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, an international coalition of public and private groups that is reintroducing the imperiled species in eastern North America. There are now about 105 whooping cranes in the wild in eastern North America thanks to their efforts.
Eleven cranes started this journey, but the diagnosis of a torn tendon in the wing of whooping crane number 2-10 by Nashville, Tenn., avian vet Dr. Michael Lutz ended its chances of being released into the wild. WCEP officials determined the crane would be returned to U.S. Geologic Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, where he will become part of the Whooping Crane Recovery Captive Population. The crane was transported there on Sunday, Dec. 5. Since departing Necedah on the 2010 migration, he had traveled in a crate in the back of a van for all but about 40 miles of the 900-plus air miles logged by his classmates.
Three ultralight aircraft and the juvenile cranes are traveling through Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia to reach the birds’ wintering habitats at St. Marks and Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuges along Florida’s Gulf Coast.