Guided cranes reach Florida safely

Published: Sunday, December 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 30, 2002 at 11:09 p.m.
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Whooping cranes fly over Crystal River on Saturday before landing at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. The birds followed four ultra-light aircraft, to complete the 1,200-mile journey from Wisconsin as part of a project to reintroduce the birds to the wild.

The Associated Press
A flock of rare whooping cranes being led by ultralight aircraft on a migration from Wisconsin to Florida has completed its journey.
The 16 cranes raised in captivity over the summer reached the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida on Saturday morning, 49 days after leaving the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin, researchers reported on their Internet site.
The cranes migrated 1,200 miles as part of an effort to create a new Midwestern population of the rare birds.
The cranes and four ultralight planes passed over a crowd of about 300 gathered at Crystal River Mall on U.S. 19 for a public flyover before reaching their final destination.
This fall's flight repeats a first ultralight-led migration completed a year ago. Five survivors of that journey migrated back to Necedah on their own in the spring and also went on the return trip this fall without assistance.
Four of those cranes had arrived in Florida by Saturday and the other was on its way.
"It's remarkable that Operation Migration has been able to train and rear 16 chicks," said Jim Harris, president of the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wis.
"We really didn't expect it would go that well, and we're equally excited about our five birds and how well they've done."
The International Crane Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will monitor the cranes over the winter and track them when they migrate north on their own in the spring.
All the birds have transmitters on their legs.
"What I'm most amazed at is the resiliency of these birds that have shown such tenacity," said Joe Duff, one of the ultralight aircraft pilots and co-founder of Operation Migration, in a statement.
At 5 feet tall, whooping cranes are North America's tallest birds and one of the world's rarest, with only about 400 left. The whooping crane was near extinction in 1941, with only about 20 left.
The only other migrating flock of whooping cranes has about 175 birds. They fly from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast each winter.

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