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Wildlife researchers leading a flock of young whooping cranes south for the winter are warning people to stay out of their way after an apparently curious pilot in an ultralight aircraft disturbed the endangered birds.

Using an ultralight plane and wearing cranelike costumes to minimize the birds' contact with humans, a team of pilots is leading 14 whooping cranes from Wisconsin to central Florida.

Last month in Illinois, another ultralight plane flew about 100 feet behind the researchers' plane, without radio contact, scaring the birds, said Joe Duff, chief executive officer of Operation Migration, who was flying the research plane at the time.

"It's when the cranes blast ahead of the aircraft like that that things become dangerous," because the birds could collide with wires atop the aircraft, Duff told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.