GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - Four captive-raised Mississippi Sandhill cranes are getting used to their new home. Raised in New Orleans, the six-month-old birds were released Wednesday inside the Sandhill Crane Wildlife Refuge in Jackson County.
The crane named "Thriller" was first to leave her wooden box. Moments later, the only female of the four was being banded with a fish & wildlife tag.
"It has information about the bird banding lab and a specific number," explained lead biologist Scott Hereford.
Color coded click bands are also fitted to help identify the individual birds, but are tough to apply.
"Did you hear it? Should have been two clicks," said Hereford.
"I heard one," said the assistant.
"Yeah, we've got to get that other one," Hereford added.
The four birds were raised in New Orleans by a team from the Audubon Nature Institute. For the next 30 days, a large enclosed pen will be their home. Plastic clips on the wings will keep them from flying off.
"Having them see this as their home area, really increases survival. Just like you, feel more comfortable in your neighborhood. The cranes here, if they're released in their neighborhood and slowly branch out," said Hereford.
"Sorry, but I'm really particular about it. How the fit is," said a biologist, as she fitted a radio transmitter onto the back of a crane.
The radio transmitters will help researchers keep track of the four cranes.
"And that will allow us, whenever you want to track 'em, you can get within about a mile of them and hear their signal and figure out the location for the next five years," said Hereford.
Crane Keeper Stephanie Appleton gets to release the first crane. After raising them from hatchlings, it's a special moment for her and the Audubon team.
"It's pretty weird to let go of them today. It's bittersweet. It's awesome to see them released into their natural habitat. But we're definitely going to miss them," she said.
Once the clips are removed in 30 days, the birds will be free to leave the pen. But they'll be tracked and studied.
"Location, movements, habitat use, survival, cause of death. And then eventually, nesting. Cause this bird here may be nesting in three years," said Hereford.
"They're awesome birds. They're beautiful birds. And yeah, watching them grow up is really a special experience," said Appleton.
The crane release program at the refuge in Jackson County is the largest and longest running in the world. It began back in 1981.