Eighteen whooping cranes, led by an escort of four ultralight aircraft, are en route to Georgia as they make their way from Wisconsin to Florida.
The birds, which are among the world's most endangered, were stuck for nine days on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee. The birds and ground crew arrived at an eastern Tennessee wildlife refuge Saturday and are expected to arrive in Calhoun, Georgia, Sunday.
Whooping cranes learn the migration route from flying with their parents, but as flocks neared extinction, knowledge of flyways was lost. That prompted the formation of Operation Migration in 2001, according to the group's spokeswoman, Liz Condie. The group tries
to lead them across the country without domesticating them.
Condie says that young hatchlings are never handled by humans, save those wearing costumes that, to a baby bird at least, make them appear to be a large crane.
The birds are wild when they arrive at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge near Crystal River in Florida and make their return to Wisconsin unassisted. The annual trek crosses seven states and covers about 12-hundred and 50 miles. Group officials say they hope to finish the migration before Christmas.