Sunday, October 14, 2007

No wonder they're near extinction -- they don't appear to be too bright

MILWAUKEE -- They're off again, and flying. For a seventh year, young whooping cranes took off from a Wisconsin wildlife refuge, led by ultralight aircraft on a 1,250-mile journey to Florida.

This time, the project to establish a second migratory flock of the endangered birds in North America is recovering from a Florida storm last winter that killed all but one of the 18 young cranes. The survivor died later, and with several other deaths from various causes, the adult flock in the wild now numbers about 50.

The 17 birds that left Saturday from the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge were hatched in captivity and raised there by researchers wearing crane costumes to keep the birds from becoming familiar with humans.

Ultralight pilots in costume lead the birds on a trip that takes about two months, with many stops during which the young birds are kept in portable pens. After that, the birds migrate in spring and fall on their own.

The whooping crane, which at 5 1/2 tall is the tallest bird in North America, was near extinction in 1941: About 15 were left.

(From the Associated Press)

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