MILWAUKEE – A whooping crane was spotted alive on Sunday after it was believed killed with 17 others in severe Florida storms, according to an organizer of a migratory project.
Organizers received a signal from a transmitter on the young male crane on Saturday night and again on Sunday near where the endangered birds were kept in Citrus County, Fla. Later Sunday, they saw the survivor with two sandhill cranes, said Rachel Levin, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"We are just so relieved to have found him alive — one small ray of hope for this disaster in the crane project," Levin said.
Organizers will continue to track and monitor the bird, she said.
The 18 whooping cranes were being kept in an enclosure at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge near Crystal River, Fla., when violent storms moved in Thursday night.
The birds were led south in December by ultralight aircraft as part of a project to create a second migratory flock. Organizers of the project thought they had perished in the storms. But when they went to recover the cranes' carcasses Saturday, one was missing, Levin said.
The whooping crane, the tallest bird in North America, was near extinction in 1941, with only about 20 left.
The other wild whooping crane flock in North America has about 200 birds and migrates from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. A non-migratory flock in Florida has about 60 birds.
Joe Duff, senior pilot and co-founder of Operation Migration, a nonprofit organization coordinating the project, has said the University of Florida would perform tests on the 17 birds killed to determine how they died.