Whooping cranes return to the Pecatonica River Valley

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-116604079027600.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of www.pwrc.usgs.gov’, ‘Whooping cranes making their annual migration.’);

After a long absence, rare whooping cranes are returning to the Pecatonica River Valley. These majestic white birds are few in number and face a precarious future, but after nearly 70 years, they are migrating through our area once again.

During the past five years, approximately 60 whooping cranes have been raised and released in an extraordinary effort to reintroduce a migratory flock to the Eastern United States. Each year, people around the world are engaged in the great adventure of migration, awed by young birds following ultralight aircraft as they leave the marshes in central Wisconsin and head for their winter home in Florida. The one-time experience behind ultralights enables the young cranes to migrate on their own in subsequent years.

Whooping cranes are the world’s most endangered cranes. The excitement of seeing them in our area again after scores of years is contagious. Their return is the result of years of dedication and work by Operation Migration, as well as the work of many people to protect and restore the habitat. Whooping cranes need to thrive once again in the wild.

Natural habitat offering refuge is the key to the long-term success of the whooping crane reintroduction project and to the protection of other wildlife species. Primarily through the efforts of private landowners, whooping cranes and other migratory birds will have a home to come back to each spring.

The Pecatonica River Valley has one of the largest numbers of wetlands of any place in northern Illinois. The valley is covered with large tracts of bottomland forest, oxbow lakes and marshes that not only provide homes for hundreds of species of plants and animals, but also filter pollutants from the water that people in our communities depend on.

We have good reason to think that someday a pair of magnificent whooping cranes will stay here and nest, if we provide enough of their favorite habitat. You can help to assure that true wild nature will be passed on from generation to generation in the years ahead.

To learn how, go to naturalland.org or contact the Natural Land Institute at 320 S. Third St., Rockford, IL 61104. Phone 964-6666 or E-mail nli@aol.com.

From the Dec. 13-19, 2006, issue

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