CHASSAHOWITZKA — The first wild whooping crane chick of 2011 has hatched in Wisconsin, and the youngster's arrival is continuing a distinguished bloodline.
The chick's mother, known as W-601 to those working to save the endangered species, in 2006 became the first crane to be hatched in the wild and then be taught by its parents the migration route to Florida.
The birth was notable for another reason: The bird's grandmother in 2002 learned the migration route by following an ultralight aircraft 1,250 miles to Citrus County. In 2009, she was shot and killed in Indiana, an incident that sparked outrage when one of the shooters received just a $1 fine.
"The little one will likely carry the moniker W1-11," said Liz Condie of Operation Migration, one of the groups working to revive the cranes in the eastern United States. "But … I think it should be more appropriately be known as Hope."
For 10 years, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership has worked to re-establish a migratory flock of whooping cranes in the eastern United States. Using ultralights through Operation Migration and other migrating cranes, the chicks learn the route from Wisconsin to Florida. During that time, the group has grown the population from zero to more than 100.
The goal of the program is to have cranes that migrate without human help.
The odds for survival are long. In the 10 years of the reintroduction project, only three cranes have hatched and migrated. Last year, seven cranes hatched and two survived to migrate. Ten pairs of cranes now are incubating eggs in and around the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.
The shooting of the grandma crane, and the resulting $1 fine, continues to infuriate those working to save the species.
"Now for a buck you get to legally shoot a whooping crane and snub your nose at the laws designed to protect it. Your dollar can buy the 15 years of experimentation that it took to develop a technique for teaching birds to migrate," wrote Operation Migration founder Joe Duff.
The birds are battling more than bullets. Swarming black flies at Necedah are thought to be driving pairs of cranes off their nests.
That has prompted a change in where the birds hatching this year will be trained to follow ultralight aircraft to Florida. The new site will be the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area near the town of Berlin, Wis.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.