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The first-ever sighting of whooping cranes in New York was recorded by bird watchers in Chautauqua County last week and verified by independent sources.

Three cranes were noticed flying northeast along the Lake Erie shoreline about 1 p.m. April 6, said Gil Randell, one of the birders and a volunteer for the annual Ripley Hawk Watch.

"We coordinated our sighting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service," he said. "One of the birds has a transmitter, and satellite telemetry confirmed the sighting."

Habitat destruction reduced the U.S. whooping crane population to about 21 in the 1950s, but a reintroduction program has helped bring the total population to about 400.

At 5 feet, they are the tallest birds in North America and are known for their "whooping" call. The cranes sighted in New York strayed from a small group that has been migrating between Florida and Wisconsin in the last several years.