Two critically endangered whooping cranes raised in Nassau County have been flown along with their parents and released to the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Wisconsin.
The two youngsters - a male and female - were hatched this spring at White Oak Conservation in Yulee and arrived in Wisconsin last week.
Since then, they have grown nearly as big as their parents and have been taught to fly by their father 16-11, also known as Grasshopper, and their mother 18-12, known as Hemlock. For Grasshopper and Hemlock, the trip to Wisconsin represented a homecoming.
The pair was brought from Wisconsion to Florida in 2016 for breeding.
“White Oak’s mission is to save endangered species around the globe, and as this case shows, exceptional care and planning among many partners is required to achieve it,” said Mark Walter, a philanthropist and co-owner of White Oak.
The 4-month-old cranes — 73-18 and 74-18 — are the adult pair’s first offspring.
Their hatches are considered a milestone for the species, according to White Oak, as only 700 to 800 whooping cranes remain in North America.
White Oak attributes the species’ drop off to hunting, power line collisions, habitat reduction and encroachment.
In Wisconsin the adult male will teach the family to survive in the wild. All four cranes are expected to migrate as a family to their wintering area this fall.
“The pairing of 16-11 and 18-12, their two healthy chicks, and now the family’s return to their breeding grounds in Wisconsin, gives us hope for the future of the species,” said Anne Lacy, Crane Research Coordinator for the International Crane Foundation.
The family likely will stay together until the next breeding season, in spring 2019, according to White Oak. At that point the young cranes will likely go out on their own. Adult cranes typically pair for life.