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Ultralight-Guided Whooping Cranes Head to Florida

Record Number of Whoopers in Texas

By: U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service

Seventeen whooping cranes, guided by ultralight planes on their first migration, are making slow progress towards the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in mid-Florida, while Texas is expecting a record breaking 250 whoopers to winter along its coast at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

Seventeen whoopers left the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin behind an ultralight plane in mid-October. The giant birds – their wingspan between 6 and 7 feet – have made the slowest progress in six years because of bad weather and by late November were still in Kentucky. Their journey across seven states to Florida can take anywhere from six weeks to two months, depending on weather conditions.

At Aransas National Wildlife Refuge a final count will be made at the end of December, but the refuge is expecting a record number of endangered whooping cranes to winter over on the Texas coast, in a 30-mile stretch between Port Aransas and Port O'Conner. Last spring the flock stood at 236, but Refuge Whooping Crane Coordinator Tom Stehn is hoping it will exceed 250 this winter. If so, it would be another milestone for the Texas population which hit a low of only 15 whooping cranes in the winter of 1941-1942.

Stehn is basing his hopes on the 40 chicks that survived to flight age from this year's record 65 nests. The Aransas whoopers summer in upper Canada before making their way to the wheat fields of Saskatchewan where they fortify themselves with grain for the trip across the U.S. They arrive in Aransas in small groups during November and early December.

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