New plan takes effect for Wisconsin whooping crane migration

BARABOO, Wis. (AP) — A plan to save the endangered whooping crane species takes a turn this week when the birds will no longer rely on humans to guide them during fall migration, ending an effort that began 15 years ago with ultralight aircraft.

The slow-moving aircraft will be absent for the first time since 2001, when a public-private partnership launched a new reintroduction plan involving ultralights and humans dressed to look like cranes, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ( ) reported.

The reintroduction is relying on parent rearing instead of human caretakers starting this year.

Nine young cranes flown to Wisconsin by private plane Wednesday will be paired with adult cranes in the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area in Green Lake County and other areas. In the coming weeks, three other cranes hatched at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo will be released with the hope they follow adults south for the winter.

Efforts to bring whooping cranes back to the eastern part of the county has cost over $20 million and has resulted in a population of about 100. Most of the 5-foot-tall birds spend all seasons except winter in Wisconsin.

“They know how to survive in the wild,” said Davin Lopez, a conservation biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, one of the government agencies involved in crane reintroduction. “But what they are not doing is raising chicks.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in January it wouldn’t support the use of ultralights in migrations and wanted to de-emphasize the use of humans dressed in crane-like outfits who tended to the young birds until they were able to join the wild.

The idea is to carry out a more natural method of raising birds where the chicks learn skills and behaviors directly from adults instead of human surrogates such as those involved in the project.

Operation Migration, the nonprofit group that pioneered the ultralight use, will stay involved in crane reintroduction.

Joe Duff, the group’s co-founder, said Operation Migration is working with other groups to transport the young cranes and closely monitor them with telemetry.


Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,