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Whooping Cranes Reach Illinois in Ultralight Migration

A group of juvenile whooping cranes are being led by four ultralight aircraft on a migration from the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin to the Chassahowitzka and St. Marks National Wildlife Refuges on Florida's Gulf coast. The ninth annual migration is part of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership's effort to reintroduce the whooping crane, North America's tallest birds and an endangered species, to the wild. "Each year the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership brings us one step closer to a self-sustaining population of whooping cranes," says U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius. "We have come so far since the inception of this project nine years ago, and we will continue to apply the expertise of this team to ensure this project is a success." There are currently 77 migratory whooping cranes in the wild in North America, including the first whooping crane chick to hatch in the wild in Wisconsin in more than a century. The ultralight-led flock will pass over Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia before reaching Florida. Whooping cranes were almost extinct in the 1940s, and now there are only about 500 in existence and 350 in the wild. Aside from the 77 Wisconsin-Florida birds, the only other migrating population of whooping cranes nests at the Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada and winters at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Coast. A non-migrating flock of about 30 birds live year-round in central Florida while the rest are in captivity in zoos and breeding facilities.

December 9, 2009

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