Sandhill Crane Experiment
by Steve McCadams
A flock of sandhill cranes being led by
ultralight aircraft from Wisconsin to Florida reached
the midpoint of their journey earlier this
week, having traveled 624 miles since leaving
Necedah National Wildlife Refuge on October 3. After
fifteen stopover points, the entourage of twelve cranes, four aircraft,
seven vehicles and twelve biologists, pilots and ground crew flew
further south into Fentress County, Tennessee.
"The weather has slowed us up a bit," said Chuck
Underwood of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
and the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).
"Morning fog delays our takeoff time and warmer air
temperatures tire the birds more quickly."
Except for a mechanical problem early on,
weather has been the only limiting factor in the group's
progress toward reaching Chassahowitzka National Wildlife
Refuge in Crystal River, Florida. Originally expected to
take 32 days, the trip is now estimated to take approximately two
"We had excellent flying weather from
Wisconsin all the way through
central Indiana," said Bill Lishman of Operation
Migration, Inc. another member of WCEP.
"Despite delays these last few days, the trip is going very
well. And we could have blue skies and a nice tailwind
If the migration study is successful and the sandhill cranes
complete the journey to Florida and return on their own to
Wisconsin in the spring of 2001, the same training procedure and
route could be used with whooping crane chicks as part
of the second phase of the study. If all goes as planned
and necessary approvals are obtained from the
Flyway Councils, States and other involved agencies,
the study may eventually lead to the re-establishment of a
migratory population of whooping cranes in the
eastern United States.
Whooping cranes are endangered and currently found in the
wild only in the western United
States and central Florida. Captive-reared whooping
crane chicks from the International
Crane Foundation and U.S. Geological Survey's Patuxent Wildlife
Research Center, also part of WCEP, were used to start non-migratory
flock in Florida.
WCEP, also including the Wisconsin Department of
Natural Resources, International Whooping Crane Recovery Team, Natural
Resources Foundation of Wisconsin and the National
Fish and Wildlife Foundation, was formed in October 1999
to coordinate the ultralight migration study and
address issues regarding recovery of the whooping crane.
For more information on the project, its
partners and regular migration updates, visit the WCEP Website at
The information above is
compiled by outdoor writer
Steve is a professional hunting and fishing guide
here in the Paris Landing area and host of the The Outdoor Channel's television series