Three migrating whooping cranes have returned home to Wisconsin after ending their off-course visit to Michigan. But officials say five of the endangered birds remain in the state. A ninth crane was killed by an animal, probably a coyote.
Twelve other birds returned as scheduled in the spring and early summer.
The birds flew off course this year after leaving their Florida winter home. Bad weather and human interference are to blame.
A federal wildlife spokesman says this is the first time multiple birds have strayed during a return flight. The remaining cranes have moved to a wetlands in Gladwin County, west of Midland.
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Whooping Crane Facts
- Whooping Cranes are the tallest birds in North America. Males are almost 5 feet (1.5 m) high, with a wingspan of about 7.5 feet (2.4 m). Females are slightly smaller. Yet these huge birds weigh only 11-16 pounds.
- Their long necks are extended straight forward in flight, with legs extended beyond the tail. The wingbeat is slow.
- Whoopers are white and larger than the common sandhill cranes, which are light gray. Whoopers migrate in groups of usually 2 to 7, whereas sandhill cranes migrate in flocks of two to hundreds.
- The courtship rituals help forge and strengthen pair bonds. The courtship consists of calling, wing flapping, head bowing, and tremendous leaps into the air by one of both birds. These dances occur not only before mating, but also may occur as whoopers defend their territories or simply release tension.
- Even with so many cranes leaving within a short time period, whooping cranes do not travel together. They leave in small groups of two or three, at staggered starting times. Sometimes, two such units will join forces; possibly five cranes, or occasionally a few more, may be flying together--but not the entire flock.
- When a territorial pair departs, their neighbors begin to leave shortly afterwards. Departures are never randomly spread across the wintering grounds. Instead, they occur in clumped patterns.
- They eat mostly crabs, crayfish, frogs and other small aquatic life, but rarely eat fish. On the wintering grounds, blue crabs are the whoopers' favorite food item. Blue crabs in their diet are important in helping cranes build up enough energy reserves to have a successful nesting season.
- The main wild flock's winter home is among the salt marshes and tidal flats of southern Texas. Arkansas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas was created in 1937 to protect whoopers on their wintering grounds along the Gulf of Mexico. The new eastern migratory flock being introduced starting in 2001 will winter in Florida at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. A non-migratory flock of 75 whooping cranes (2001 figures) live year round in central Florida, as part of a separate and ongoing reintroduction effort.
- The world's only wild flock of whooping cranes, with one summer home and one winter home, might be lost to disease, bad weather, or other natural or human-caused disaster. That's why in 2001, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership began reintroducing a new flock into eastern North America.
- A whooper can live 50 years or more.
- Whooping cranes eat a wide variety of foods, both plant and animal, and they in turn provide food for foxes, wolves, coyotes, lynxes, bobcats, and raccoons.
- Research has shown that birds can be raised at a captive breeding center and then transported to the site chosen for their introduction, as long as the move takes place before they learn to fly. Birds seem to focus on the first location they can explore from the air and are driven to return there year after year.
- They can fly about 30 miles an hour. When pushed by strong tailwinds, speeds of up to 60 mph have been recorded. With strong tail winds, for example, cranes may have crossed nearly all of Texas (over 400 miles) in one day. They make the migration in two to three weeks.
- They fly anywhere from 200-400 miles a day. As they fly, the whoopers are spread out in their north/south corridor, which is over 150 miles in width.