Florida's Whooping Cranes
Whooping cranes occurred naturally in the eastern United States until the mid-twentieth century, and there are records of whooping cranes in Florida until the 1930s. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) is currently involved in two multi-agency projects to restore the whooping crane to its former range. Efforts by FWRI biologists focus specifically on areas in the southeast, mainly in Florida.
Project: Reintroduction of non-migratory whooping cranes to Florida
This project was originally designed to introduce a flock of non-migratory whooping cranes to Florida. From 1993 to 2004, biologists released 289 captive-raised whooping cranes into central Florida. Due to problems with survival, reproduction, and other challenges, a decision was made to stop releasing cranes into the non-migratory flock. For more information on the changes to this project view the news release on these changes.
Project: Reintroduction of non-migratory whooping cranes to Louisiana
FWRI is partnered with the USFWS, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the International Crane Foundation, and others to translocate the remaining lone cranes of the Florida non-migratory population to the Louisiana non-migratory population. After the decision was made to stop releasing cranes into the Florida non-migratory flock, efforts began to re-establish a non-migratory flock in Louisiana. Whooping cranes were naturally present in Louisiana through the first half of the 1900s. The first captive-raised cranes were released in 2011, with additional releases occurring annually. Two single female cranes from the Florida flock were translocated to Louisiana in 2019 where both found mates and nested. To learn more about the Louisiana reintroduction project, visit https://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/subhome/whooping-crane.
Project: Reintroduction of migratory whooping cranes to the eastern United States
FWRI is also involved in a project to restore migratory whooping cranes to the eastern United States. Each autumn young captive-raised whooping cranes are released in Wisconsin to head south to warmer climates. For a time, 2001-2017, some cranes were taught the migration route by ultra-light aircraft flying from Wisconsin to Florida, while others were released in the company of older cranes that knew the migration route, 2005-present. Once these birds are taught the migration route from north to south, they will make the journey on their own. To learn more about the migratory project, visit https://savingcranes.org/whooping-crane-eastern-partnership-annual-reports/.
Whooping Crane Recovery
The Whooping Crane Recovery Plan recommends that in order for whooping cranes to be "down-listed" from endangered to threatened status, there must be 40 nesting pairs in the current self-sustaining population and 25 nesting pairs in two additional locations, or 100 nesting pairs in the current self-sustaining population and 30 nesting pairs in one additional location. The reintroductions in Florida represent efforts to establish additional populations.
Currently, there is only one self-sustaining flock of whooping cranes in North America that migrate annually. This flock breeds in Canada and winters along the gulf coast of Texas.