The Eastern Migratory Population of whooping cranes – the 100 or so whoopers that call Wisconsin home – is currently spread out along the migration route from southern Indiana to northern Florida. I would guess that right now, mid-February, is when the truest picture emerges of where the Wisconsin whooping cranes reside through the winter.
Curiously enough, for most of them it’s not Florida. Even though the majority of birds in the EMP (Eastern Migratory Population ) learned the migration route from Wisconsin to Florida by following the ultralight pilots of Operation Migration, a large chunk of this whooper population – nearly 30 birds ! – has stayed in Southern Indiana. An even larger group – 34 whooping cranes – is in Alabama.
All of our EMP (Eastern migratory Population) birds have been on the move since November at various locations up and down the route. For many of the birds, where they stop and spend time, their locations throughout November and December, aren’t necessarily where they’re going to stay put. And maybe in late February, certainly by the second week in March, they’ll be on the move again, coming north. Thus, February is a good month to take a look at their true winter destinations. (That’s my opinion – not a scientific observation.)
The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership – which includes the government agencies and private groups charged with this reintroduction of the endangered whooping crane – has issued four “Project Updates” since migration began in earnest in November Each one is accompanied by a map with lots of dots signifying in a general way, the location of the entire population of our whooping cranes. You can look at the four different maps and see how their movements have changed throughout the migration, to date.
The time period reported in the most recent Project Update covers the month of January from start to finish. In addition to the aforementioned groups in Indiana and Alabama, the distribution of whoopers includes: 7 in Kentucky, 10 in Tennessee, 3 in Georgia, and 13 in Florida. WCEP’s Project Update also includes the fact that 2-5 birds are at unknown locations, and 2 are considered “long-term missing.”
The Florida total includes the seven ultralight-led juveniles (the “Class of 2014”). Now technically free, wild birds, these juveniles will be closely monitored at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, until they begin their migration northward this coming spring. This will occur at a date to-be-determined – by the youngsters themselves.