Rare whooping crane chick hatched in wild heads south with parents after leaving Wisconsin refuge

Saturday, November 25th 2006, 7:28 am
By: News On 6

MILWAUKEE (AP) _ One of the first whooping crane chicks hatched in the wild in more than a century is making more history as it migrates south with its parents from a Wisconsin refuge.

The chick, whose sibling apparently was killed by a predator, hatched in June at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin, according to Operation Migration, the group coordinating an effort to establish a second migrating flock of the birds in North America.

The journey toward Florida began Sunday. As of Thursday, the three cranes were stopped in Parke County, Ind., according to the researchers.

Operation Migration also has ultralight aircraft leading a separate flock of 18 young cranes hatched in captivity to a Florida refuge as part of the project. Those cranes make many stops along the way. They are kept in portable pens at night and when weather conditions aren't good enough to fly.

By Friday, they had traveled 674.8 miles to Cumberland County, Tenn.

It marks the sixth consecutive fall that young whooping cranes have been led south to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge near Crystal River, Fla. From then on, the cranes migrate on their own.

As of this fall, the flock included 64 released cranes that have survived in the wild, plus the one surviving chick that was hatched in the wild.

The whooping crane, the tallest bird in North America, was near extinction in 1941, with only about 20 left.

The only other migrating flock has about 200 birds and migrates from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. A non-migratory flock in Florida has about 60 birds.