Endangered cranes closing in on migratory destination

Whooping Crane
Whooping Crane

A whooping crane eats a crab at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, near Rockport, Texas, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2006. The whooping crane is one of the first species that appears to have rebound from extinction thanks to legislation and public awareness. A record 237 birds have been counted this year.

Ron Heflin/The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 8:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 8:28 p.m.

DUNNELLON, Fla. - A group of 17 endangered whooping cranes and four ultralight aircrafts is close to completing a 1,260-mile trip to Florida's Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.

The "Class of 2007" cranes crossed seven states since Oct. 13 and are the seventh group to be guided by ultralights to Florida from the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. The group arrived in Marion County on Sunday and have a short, 26-mile finale to complete on Monday.

The birds were slowed earlier on their trip by cold weather and heavy rains near the Florida-Georgia border after leaving the Wisconsin refuge. Bad weather has repeatedly delayed this year's flock.

In the spring, the newest group of birds will return to Wisconsin on its own.

The program's goal is to establish a viable eastern migratory flock to help preserve the species. There's only one wild migrating flock now, traveling from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast.

Last year's project was struck by tragedy when 17 chicks who had successfully migrated drowned at Chassahowitzka during a February storm. They were trapped in a pen used for protection against predators.

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, an international coalition of public and private organizations, has conducted the reintroduction project to try and return the species to its historic range in eastern North America.

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