Whooping Crane Press Release, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission:

URL:  http://fcn.state.fl.us/fwc/whatsnew/wander-whoopers-st.html


August 3, 2000
CONTACT: Henry Cabbage (850) 488-8843

You see bumper stickers around Florida sometimes that read "When I retire, I'm going to move up north and drive slow in the fast lane." Two of the nonmigratory whooping cranes, introduced to Florida as part of an effort to save their species from extinction, apparently took the message to heart and moved to Michigan.

The two birds paired up as mates in the spring of 1999 and moved around central Florida for the past year as drought conditions dried up their favored habitats. Then four months ago, the pair disappeared from the range of radio transmitters that enable researchers to track their movements.

Wildlife biologist Steve Nesbitt, who heads the whooping crane reintroduction project for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said the drought probably is what motivated the pair to head northward. Why the birds chose Michigan as their destination is a mystery, since both birds actually
hatched in captivity at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. Even wild whooping cranes normally don't nest or occur in Michigan.

The cranes settled on a 1,475-acre parcel of reclaimed wetland at Sandusky, Mich. The land belongs to Michigan Peat Co., which produces agricultural peat products for gardening and landscaping.

In a news release, the firm's vice president and general manager, J. David Newman, said the company is delighted to have the endangered birds on its property.

"We have blocked access into the area so that the cranes will not be disturbed," he said.

Newman said the company has instituted other security measures to protect the cranes and will be happy to be their host as long as they want to stay.

Nesbitt said researchers are eager to see if the birds return to Florida when their migratory cousins head south in the fall.

The male crane is five years old and has a colorful past.

"Shortly after he was released into the wild in Florida in January 1996, he started acting peculiar and we had to take him back into captivity and discovered he had swallowed a fishing lure with two treble hooks," Nesbitt said. "After we had the lure removed and rehabilitated him and returned him to the wild, his radio transmitter went into the mortality mode (transmitted a signal that indicated the bird had not moved for many hours). We finally found the transmitter wrapped around a power line. We have no idea how the bird managed to do that."

The female was released into the wild in Florida in February 1996. Since whooping cranes "whoopers" for short mate for life, Nesbitt believes the female is simply following wherever the male
leads her.

Florida undertook the whooping crane reintroduction project in 1993 in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the International Crane Foundation. Researchers have released 208 whooping cranes into the wild since then. Mortality was high at first, but 78 of the birds are still alive, and some of the mated pairs produced chicks this
year, although none of the chicks survived more than a few weeks. This was the first time since 1939 that whooping cranes have hatched in the United States.

Whooping cranes are an endangered species. Wildlife officials hope to down-list the species to  threatened" status by establishing 25 nesting pairs of wild whoopers in Florida, maintaining at least 40 nesting pairs in the only remaining wild population which nests in Manitoba, Canada and establishing another 25 nesting pairs in another location.

Partners in the Florida project plan to continue releasing 20-40 per year until the crane population in Florida stabilizes at 100-125.

The whoopers introduced to Florida during the experiment typically scatter over several hundred miles during their second year of life, but the dispersal of the two birds to Michigan came as a complete
surprise to wildlife experts, since migration is a behavior most birds learn from other members of their flocks. All the birds released in Florida were raised in captivity and had no opportunity to learn migration habits.

NG release approval by Tom Stehn, US Whooping Crane Coordinator, USFWS
Forwarded by Patty Beasley, Corpus Christi, TX