Wiregrass residents looked to the skies Thursday, Jan. 7, as a flock of 20 of North America’s most famous endangered birds passed overhead on their way to Florida.
Pilots with the program began leading the 12 male and eight female Whooping Crane chicks with ultralight aircraft from Wisconsin to Florida Oct. 16.
Half of the chicks will end their flight at a wildlife refuge south of Tallahassee, Fla., and the others will stop at a wildlife refuge north of St. Petersburg, Fla.
The flock landed in Pike County Wednesday, Jan. 8, after being grounded in Franklin County for several weeks because of unfavorable weather conditions.
The birds will spend Thursday night in Decatur County in southwest Georgia. From there Operation Migration will continue the flight into Florida where the cranes will spend the winter.
The cranes will return on their own to Wisconsin in the spring. Officials say the birds will increase the number of the Eastern Migratory Flock to 100.
The number of naturally migrating Whooping Cranes dwindled to 15 birds in the 1940s because of hunting and habitat loss, but has since grown to 180 birds in 1999.
The flight of the endangered Whooping Cranes is part of Operation Migration, a non-profit organization that has been reintroducing the birds into North America since 2001.
Americans and Canadians have been working together since 1987 to safeguard against the extinction of the Whooping Crane.