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Young whooping cranes reach Decatur County

Eight young birds are nearing the end of their 1,000-plus mile journey

The eight juvenile whooping cranes that made it to Decatur County on Monday are on a migration journey from Wisconsin to Florida. They are being guided by lightweight aircraft. (Photo: Heather Ray/Operation Migration)

The eight juvenile whooping cranes that made it to Decatur County on Monday are on a migration journey from Wisconsin to Florida. They are being guided by lightweight aircraft. (Photo: Heather Ray/Operation Migration)

BAINBRIDGE — Eight young whooping cranes on a aircraft-led migration from Wisconsin to Florida are nearing the end of their journey after making it to Decatur County in Southwest Georgia on Monday.

“With 90 days on the road, the end is in sight with just two flights away from completing our 13th migration,” said Operation Migration spokesperson Liz Condie. “I can’t think of a better way to ring in the New Year!”

The octet had flown 1,020 since it left White River Marsh State Wildlife Area in Green Lake County, Wis., on Oct. 2 when it reached Decatur County.

This is the 13th group of birds to take part in a project led by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), an international coalition of public and private groups that is reintroducing this highly imperilled species in eastern North America, part of its historic range. WCEP and Operation Migration are using a pair of ultralight aircraft to lead the juvenile birds.

The cranes will have passed through Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia in reaching their wintering habitat at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Whooping cranes were on the verge of extinction in the 1940s, officials with WCEP note. Today, there are about 600 birds in existence, with about 445 of those in the wild. Aside from the WCEP birds, the only other migratory population of whooping cranes nests at Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta, Canada, and winters at Aransas NWR on the Texas Gulf Coast. A non-migratory flock of approximately 20 birds lives year-round in the central Florida Kissimmee region, and an additional 33 non-migratory cranes live in southern Louisiana.

The public can follow the aircraft-guided Whooping cranes on Operation Migration’s live CraneCam, which broadcasts daily during flights and while the cranes are at each stopover location along the route to Florida. Visit HERE to watch the video stream or CLICK HERE for daily website postings.