One crane released, one to go

Published March 1, 2007

CRYSTAL RIVER - Whooping crane Romeo, also known as No. 105, has apparently found some new friends.

The wild bird had been penned at the Halpata Tastanaki Preserve in Marion County for the past several weeks. He was kept there to prevent him from returning time and again to visit Peepers, the captive whooping crane at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

Crane 105 had recently lost his mate and officials assumed he was looking for a food handout or some female attention.

Over the weekend, members of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership released 105 in Paynes Prairie in Alachua County.

There he joined up with several other wild whooping cranes. "He seems to be doing what he's supposed to do," said Liz Condie of Operation Migration.

To be sure that Peepers wasn't again a draw, both she and the other crane at the state park, Rocky, have been temporarily removed from their display.

If 105 stays on course, that also could solve the partners' problem with another wild crane.

Bird number 615, the sole survivor of the Class of 2006, has also been kept at the Halpata preserve. He could be released as early as today.

He has had little time on his own since he and his ill-fated classmates were led to Central Florida from Wisconsin last fall. With the migration back to Wisconsin already starting, the partners want 615 to have some time to learn the ropes of being free.

Others in the Class of 2006 were killed in storms Feb 1-2. Crane 615 somehow escaped and found 105 at his pen in Marion County.

Operation Migration also reported this week that the so-called first family has moved on from the Hernando neighborhood where the birds had been seen frequently for much of the winter. The first family is the first pair of cranes led to Florida by an ultralight. The two reproduced and led their own offspring here last fall.

They left to another undisclosed area of Central Florida once a resident was persuaded to stop leaving food out for them.

The partners group repeatedly ask people not to have contact or approach the wild birds.

"What is the point of reintroducing them as wild if people are going to tame them?" Condie asked.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or 564-3621.