- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 12, 2004

CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. (AP) — Thirteen endangered whooping cranes landed safely at a west-central Florida wildlife refuge yesterday morning, finishing a 64-day, 1,200-mile journey from Wisconsin to their wintering grounds.

The flock followed an ultralight aircraft and landed at about 9:40 a.m. at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, according to a recorded update line. They had been held up in northern Florida for six days waiting for the right weather to complete the trip.

The trip over seven states started Oct. 10 at Wisconsin’s Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.

The plane led the endangered cranes, which were raised in captivity, to teach them how to migrate. The flock is the fourth to learn the route, thanks to the Canadian nonprofit group Operation Migration.

The cranes, born at different times in May, will be monitored by biologists over the winter and tracked next spring when they return to Wisconsin unaided.

On Friday, one of the cranes was euthanized at a Gainesville, Fla., medical facility after it was found to be suffering from parasitic and bacterial infections.

At 5 feet, whooping cranes are North America’s tallest birds. They also are among the world’s rarest, with only about 400 alive, although that is a considerable recovery from the estimated 20 left in 1941.

The only other migrating flock of whooping cranes has about 175 birds. They fly from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast each winter.

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