Endangered whooping cranes set to make annual flight through county
by Special to the Eagle
Nov 23, 2013 | 2042 views | 0 0 comments | 45 45 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Earlier this year, Operation Migration Pilot Richard van Heuvelen spent time introducing the newest batch of Whooping crane chicks to the large wing of the aircraft they will follow on they way to their winter home in Florida. Photo by Doug Pellerin. Courtesy of Operation Migration
Earlier this year, Operation Migration Pilot Richard van Heuvelen spent time introducing the newest batch of Whooping crane chicks to the large wing of the aircraft they will follow on they way to their winter home in Florida. Photo by Doug Pellerin. Courtesy of Operation Migration
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Ultralight aircraft will lead eight young whooping cranes in a 324-mile journey through Alabama, part of an ongoing effort to bring the rare birds back from the brink of extinction.

The trek through Alabama is just a portion of a 1,101-mile migration spanning seven states for the group of young birds making their first cross-country flight.

Each year, the nonprofit group Operation Migration raises a new set of hatchlings and prepares them for migration as part of the organization’s unique approach to expanding the endangered whooping crane populations in eastern North America.

The cranes are hatched at the U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. They are shipped to Wisconsin 50 days after hatching where they are taught to follow a specially designed ultralight aircraft. Their training continues from June through September. Eventually, they follow a team of two ultralight aircraft on their first migration.

This year’s group of hatchlings began its first Wisconsin-to-Florida migration on Oct. 2. As of today, the cranes had made it to neighboring Tennessee and could cross the Alabama state line as early as this weekend. Depending on weather conditions, the cranes are scheduled to make stops in Franklin, Walker, Chilton, Lowndes and Pike counties as they make their way across the state.

Since 2008, Alabama Power and its parent company, Southern Company, in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), have sponsored the annual crane migration through Southern Company’s Power of Flight initiative. Power of Flight seeks to restore and revive the populations and habitats of southern birds through habitat restoration and environmental education. The program is the largest public/private funding effort for bird conservation in the South.

Alabama Power, in partnership with NFWF and others, also works to restore the South’s important longleaf pine ecosystem through the Longleaf Stewardship Fund and supports watershed conservation through the Five Star Restoration program.

Earlier this year, Southern Company and its operating companies, including Alabama Power, announced a five-year extension of the Power of Flight, Longleaf Stewardship Fund and Five Star Restoration programs during NWF’s 10th Annual Stewardship Partners meeting in Mobile. In Alabama alone, these initiatives have created or improved tens of thousands of acres of longleaf pine habitat; are helping restore more than 100 acres of wetlands; are helping improve water quality through the restoration of Alabama creek banks; and providing vital resources to benefit Alabama wildlife.

The initiatives also have provided resources for environmental education within the state.