Building on the success of two historic migrations led by Operation Migration Inc., a third generation of endangered whooping cranes began a similar migration today from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.
At 7:44 a.m., guided by three ultralight aircraft, 15 juvenile whooping cranes began the first leg of their 1,228-mile journey to their wintering habitat at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, along Florida's Gulf coast. They flew for 23 miles before reaching their first stopover in southern Juneau County.
Of the fifteen birds that took off from Necedah, nine flew all the way to the stopover behind the ultralights. The remaining six cranes are being tracked by Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership crew members and will be transported to the stopover site.
Pilots believe the 15 birds will more likely follow the ultralight aircraft as a group as the migration progresses.
"We're fairly confident that now that these birds are away from the familiarity of Necedah refuge, they'll more consistently follow the ultralight aircraft," said Operation Migration's Joe Duff, the lead ultralight pilot.
The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), an international coalition of public and private groups, is organizing the effort to reintroduce this highly imperiled species in eastern North America.