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Whooping cranes take a breather in Alabama

Endangered whooping cranes, en route to Florida from Wisconsin in Operation Migration, reach Kentucky in late November.

Joe Duff, Operation Migration

Endangered whooping cranes, en route to Florida from Wisconsin in Operation Migration, reach Kentucky in late November.

The 14 whooping cranes comprising the migratory Class of 2008 have been stalled in Franklin County, Ala., since Friday, and it seems they will be there for some time.

The team of Operation Migration, which has been leading captive-raised whooping cranes to Florida from Wisconsin behind ultralight aircraft for the past eight years, will take a short hiatus from this year's migration to go home for the holidays.

Two storm fronts are predicted that would likely keep the birds grounded for days, prompting the decision to take a break. Organizers had hoped that this year's migration would go faster than in the past because they changed the route to avoid having to cross the difficult Cumberland Gap. But bad weather has made this year's trip the second longest ever. Last year, the birds didn't arrive at their final destination at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, along the coast on the Citrus-Hernando county border, until the end of January.

The Alabama location is 702 miles into the roughly 1,200-mile trip.

This year's migration is also different because half of the birds will be brought to a new wintering area in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in the Panhandle, with the rest coming to Chassahowitzka. The split was made to avoid another catastrophic loss like the deaths of the Class of 2006, when all but one were killed by a lightning strike and drowned in a storm.

Whooping cranes take a breather in Alabama 12/17/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 22, 2008 4:18pm]
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