Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Whooping cranes could resume journey today

CHASSAHOWITZKA — If the winds die down, a flock of enormous, elegant birds will take off today, continuing a remarkable eight-year effort to keep alive an endangered species.

Fourteen whooping cranes have been soaring south behind an ultralight aircraft since Oct. 17 when they left their home in Wisconsin's Necedah Wildlife Refuge. They arrived in Jefferson County on Wednesday, but strong winds aloft kept them grounded on Thursday.

Weather permitting, some of the cranes are expected to continue a local tradition by flying over cheering crowds at the Dunnellon Airport in Marion County early next week, said Liz Condie, executive director for Operation Migration.

For the first time since the rescue initiative began in 2001, the birds will not all spend the winter on the North Suncoast. Today, half the flock will leave Jefferson County and fly 28 miles to settle at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in the Big Bend area of the Panhandle. The next day, the plan is for the remainder to resume their journey to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.

Straddling Hernando and Citrus counties, Chassahowitzka has been the winter home for the experimental flock since 2001. But an intense winter storm in early 2007 changed all that.

All but one of that year's flock perished when lightning and a surprise storm surge caught the birds in an enclosed pen, wiping out a genetically significant group of animals.

The public and private agencies that make up Operation Migration and control the whooping crane project decided that dividing the flock this year would prevent another catastrophic loss.

This year's flight also has taken a new, more westerly route. It was designed to keep pilots and birds safer by avoiding mountains and valleys, especially the Cumberland Gap in Tennessee, which has stalled the flight each year.

The new route had the added benefit of introducing a whole new audience on the ground to the majestic whooping cranes, said Condie.

The enthusiasm and support "was definitely a morale boost for us," she said. "And it bodes well for the future of whooping cranes and other species."

Condie said the appeal of the cranes, the tallest birds in North America at nearly 6 feet, touches a wide range of people from aviators to birders to environmentalists.

Whooping cranes command attention with their size, their grace and their rare status. Their migration helps other species along the way, she said, by raising awareness of the need to protect animal habitat.

"They're a keystone species," she said. "So many other species have a better chance of survival because of them."

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at or (352) 848-1434.


Follow their flight

Keep track of the whooping crane migration at or call the whooping crane hotline at (904) 731-3276.

Whooping cranes could resume journey today 01/15/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 15, 2009 11:27pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. How Rays' Chris Archer is branching out on Twitter

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Rays RHP Chris Archer has made a name for himself on the mound. And at a time when some athletes work to steer clear of any issue with a tint of controversy for fear it could damage their brand, Archer has used that platform to weigh in on some topical social, political and news events.

    Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Chris Archer (22) leans on the railing of the dugout during the All-Star game at Marlins Park in Miami, Fla. on Tuesday, July 11, 2017. WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times

  2. Candidates for governor get emotional talking about their gay siblings


    Occasionally in today's hyper-rehearsed and contrived world of political campaigns one witnesses moments that are so honest and real, we can't help but understand we're not just listening to another politician give his or her stump speech; We're listening to a human being who understands personal pain at least as well …

    Chris King talking to reporters in Tallahassee
  3. Southern heritage groups sue to keep Confederate monument at old Tampa courthouse

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Groups that say they support Southern heritage filed a lawsuit late Friday trying to halt the removal of a Confederate statue from downtown Tampa.

    Workers place boards around a Confederate monument on Hillsborough County property in Tampa on Thursday, August 17, 2017. It took 24 hours to raise private funds in order to move the statue from its current location.
  4. Bucs mull options at right tackle as Dotson awaits MRI


    Right tackle Demar Dotson, the Bucs' most experienced offensive lineman, will undergo an MRI on his injured groin Saturday, three weeks before the season opener.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneer Demar Dotson, offensive tackle, brought his coffee and breakfast to One Buc Place, 7/31/15, as he reported to training camp.
  5. For starters: Rays vs. Mariners, with another new look


    Having lost 11 of their last 14 games and dropping to a season-worst four games under .500 at 60-64, the Rays continue to search for ways to get out of their extended offensive slump.

    And with the M's starting LHP Ariel Miranda today, that means another new look to the lineup, which includes having struggling …