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Tragedy befalls Operation Migration whooping crane south of Chicago

Whooping cranes in flight at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas
Whooping cranes in flight at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as public domain on Wikimedia

Operation Migration and its posse of whooping cranes had been stalled in LaSalle County, Illinois for almost two weeks due to precarious weather conditions. This is the closest the migration route comes to Chicago. They finally were able to take off on Saturday to continue south towards their final destination in Florida.

Related: Operation Migration migrates into Illinois

When they landed, it was clear something was wrong with bird number ten. It was standing on one leg with its head down in a field. Upon closer inspection, it was discovered it had a broken leg. The bird was transported to University of Illinois' Wildlife Medical Clinic in Urbana for emergency surgery, but it unfortunately died on the operating table after a heroic effort by the staff to try and save it.

It is unclear how the bird broke its leg. It could have been from a hard landing in windy conditions or it could have clipped a tree limb or power line.

Operation Migration is an organization that is trying to establish a second colony of wild whooping cranes to compliment the only natural colony, which winters in Texas and summers in Canada. The Operation Migration group summers in Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin and winters in either St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge or Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.

This year due to having only having six birds, five now, all birds will be ending their migration at St. Marks. They split the group in Florida due to the fear of a storm or a disease possibly wiping out the entire colony.

The Operation Migration chicks are born in captivity and raised by handlers. When they are old enough they are taught the migration route by following ultralight aircraft from Wisconsin to Florida.

As you can imagine, this is a costly venture, but one that is definitely worthwhile. The whooping crane is the tallest North American bird, but also one that maybe in the most precarious position species wise from becoming extinct. Having only one wild colony in Texas puts the species in peril because a bad storm, an oil spill, or some other disaster could have devastating effect.

Related: Gulf oil spill illustrates the necessity of Operation Migration

This is why it is important to establish a second colony, which is the goal of Operation Migration. Once the birds are taught the migration route, instinct will take over and they will then make the migration on their own in future years.

With a count of just under 400 birds, even one death like that of number ten has an effect on the population. It is also a costly loss to the project as it is not cheap to raise birds and transport them in this manner.

Fortunately, people are stepping forward in Operation Migration’s time of need. One anonymous donor has agreed to match any contribution up to $2,000 in memory of bird number ten. Operation Migration could use your donation now. Any donation you make will be doubled thanks to one generous donor. Click here to donate.

This is actually the second $2,000 donation in honor of bird number ten. Dan and Janet Harvey from Tennessee and Babs from Washington donated $1,500 and $500.00 respectively to match any other donation given.

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