Experimental Flock Loses Whooping Crane
An experimental flock of whooping cranes has lost one of its youngest members to a Florida bobcat but could be on the verge of producing chicks in the wild for the first time.
Six older cranes in the five-year effort to establish a migratory flock of the endangered birds between Wisconsin and Florida have formed into pairs and are being monitored closely for signs of nesting and breeding behavior, according to Operation Migration, the nonprofit group that has helped coordinate the project.
A Web update on the flock posted by Heather Ray, the group's director of operations, said a bobcat killed one of the cranes that were raised in Wisconsin last year -- just as some of the other cranes have been beginning their flight north.
Remains of the male crane were found not far from a winter pen at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge near Tampa, Fla., she said.
Researchers expect the surviving 12 young cranes to soon begin their flight north, reversing the 1,200-mile route they followed when led by ultralight aircraft from central Wisconsin to Florida in the fall.
Officials said some of the older birds have already left their winter habitats to migrate north.
The fall migratory flights began in 2001, with ultralight aircraft leading young cranes from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin to Chassahowitzka. The cranes that successfully make the journey then migrate north in the spring on their own.
Early last month, officials reported that one of the cranes hatched in 2002 had been found dead, also the apparent victim of a bobcat.
Operation Migration said at that time there were 46 whooping cranes in the eastern migratory population, including 29 males and 17 females. With the latest loss of the male crane, the number has been reduced to 45.
The only other migrating flock of whooping cranes has about 200 birds. They fly from Canada to winter on the Texas Gulf Coast.
The whooping crane was near extinction in 1941, with only about 20 left.
Source: Associated Press