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home : outdoors : outdoors May 29, 2016

10/24/2013 5:46:00 AM
Flock takes flight: Whooping crane migration under way
New flock of chicks to begin first migration down south through Wisconsin skies
Whooping cranes follow an ultra-light aircraft during the 2012 fall migration.Wisconsin DNR photograph

Whooping cranes follow an ultra-light aircraft during the 2012 fall migration.

Wisconsin DNR photograph

Nine whooping crane chicks will take to the skies and migrate to southeastern states at the end of October as efforts continue to restore the endangered species to the eastern United States.

The cranes, which are hatched and raised in captivity at the International Crane Foundation near Baraboo, are reared by costumed biologists resembling cranes. The whooping crane chicks are part of the direct autumn release project conducted by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, a coalition of government agencies and non-profit organizations. These chicks learn their migration route by following older birds that have successfully migrated in the past.

In addition, following months of preparation and training, eight other whooping crane chicks were released from the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area and began their migration journey behind an ultra-light plane. On the second day of October, winds were light, skies were clear and there was no fog, which created ideal conditions for the flock to launch and begin their way south, according to Operation Migration, a member partnership.

“We’re excited for the direct autumn release birds to take off and hope the good weather holds for the ultra-light led birds. We’re looking forward to following their first journey south to warmer weather,” Davin Lopez, whooping crane coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources, said. “The DNR is once again pleased to be a part of the efforts to restore whooping cranes to eastern North America.”

Every summer, whooping crane chicks are conditioned to follow the ultra-light aircraft. This year’s flock was raised in Maryland before being brought to Wisconsin and trained to follow the plane as a surrogate parent, according to Lopez. This technique repeatedly proves effective because of the birds’ natural instinct to imprint on the first creature that nurtures it.

The two release methods, conditioning the chicks to follow behind an ultra-light plane and directly releasing young birds as a group in the company of adult birds, are being used to increase the odds that crane chicks will successfully learn the migration routes, continue them in subsequent years and behave like wild birds.

Migration can take anywhere from six to 16 weeks depending on the exact route and weather conditions, Lopez says. First migration is one of many critical life stages for the birds.

Follow this year’s ultra-light flock and stay connected with their journey through the Operation Migration website, operationmigration.org/InTheField.

For more updates on the other birds’ progress, visit the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership website at www.bringbackthecranes.org.

Since 1999, DNR has played a major role in efforts to restore a migratory whooping crane population in eastern North America. The department is a founding member of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership and the summer breeding area is in Wisconsin, Lopez says.

Before these efforts to establish a flock in the eastern U.S. began, only one migratory population of whooping cranes existed in the wild, raising concerns that any catastrophic event could have completely eliminated the species. There are now 101 whooping cranes in the eastern migratory flock because of the partnership’s efforts and nearly 500 total including non-migratory flocks.


Oct. 31 online chat set 

for discussing whooping cranes

People who have more questions about cranes or are interested in the release techniques and research can join the DNR and partners on Thursday, Oct. 31 at noon for a live online chat exclusively discussing and answering questions regarding whooping cranes. People from all over are encouraged and welcomed to join in the conversation, Lopez says.

Partners participating in the online chat include Joan Garland, outreach coordinator for the International Crane Foundation, and Heather Ray, the associate director of development for Operation Migration.

To participate, visit the DNR home page, dnr.wi.gov, and look for the box on the right to enter the chat, or search the phrase “ask the experts.” Or join the conversation on DNR’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/WIDNR, by clicking the “Cover it Live Chat” box on the top of the page.

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