Not only are the songbirds heading north, but so are the Whooping Cranes! Since 1999, Wisconsin has played a major role in efforts to restore a migratory whooping crane population in eastern North America, with a core breeding area in Wisconsin. Prior to these restoration efforts, only one migratory population of whooping cranes existed in the wild, and any catastrophic event could completely eliminate the species. An additional independent population of birds needed to be established to reduce the risk of extinction of this endangered bird. Wisconsin DNR is a founding member of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, a large group of nine government and private sector organizations, with the mission of restoring a second self-sustaining migratory population.
Whooping Crane - Photo by Ryan Hagerty, USFWS
Two release methods are being used to rebuild the population. Initially, all captive-reared crane chicks were conditioned to follow an ultralight aircraft from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in central Wisconsin to Chassahowitzka NWR on the Gulf coast of Florida. These birds then make the return and subsequent migrations south unaided.
According to Journey North, the first EIGHT ultralight-led whooping cranes from the Class of 2008 arrived back in Wisconsin April 16! Back home are #804, #814 and #818; and the St. Marks cranes #805, #812, #828, #829 and #830 (minus 826 and 813). Juveniles 803, 824, and 827 were still in Georgia (presumably together), where flooding has created good crane habitat.
On April 14 Wisconsin teacher/craniac Darlene Lambert saw four whooping cranes at Necedah Wildlife Refuge.