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Whooping Crane

Grus americana ORDER: GRUIFORMES FAMILY: GRUIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Endangered

The tallest bird in North America, the graceful Whooping Crane is an inspirational symbol of conservation. Though this bird remains an endangered species, it has rebounded from a low of just 15 cranes in the 1940s to about 600 today. Its recovery has been thanks to tireless efforts by conservationists, including Operation Migration, a creative program that helps Whooping Cranes learn migratory routes by leading them with an ultralight aircraft.

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Appearance

Heronlike
Heronlike
Typical Voice

Adult Description

  • Very large bird.
  • Long neck.
  • Long Legs.
  • White body.
  • Black wingtips.
  • Red forehead and cheek.
  • Tufted feathers over rump.

Immature Description

Juvenile similar to adult, but largely cinnamon-toned, with some white, and without red on head and face.

Range Map Help

Whooping Crane Range Map
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Field MarksHelp

  • Adults

    Whooping Crane

    Adults
    • Very large, graceful cranes
    • Snowy white overall with dark red crown and mustache stripe
    • Long black legs
    • Thick bill pinkish at base, grayer near tip
    • © Lora Render, Rockport, Texas, March 2011
  • Adult

    Whooping Crane

    Adult
    • Very large white crane
    • Tall, graceful proportions
    • Dark red crown and mustache stripe
    • Bill pinkish at base
    • © Roy Brown Photography, Georgia, December 2010
  • Immature

    Whooping Crane

    Immature
    • Similar proportions to adult
    • Mostly white on body, mixed with rusty tan
    • Mostly rusty head and neck
    • © Stephen Pollard, Aransas County, Texas, January 2009
  • Adults with immature

    Whooping Crane

    Adults with immature
    • Very large, stately crane
    • Adults snowy white overall with dark red crowns and mustaches
    • Immature mostly white with rusty coloration on head and neck
    • © Stephen Pollard, Aransas NWR, Texas, January 2009
  • Adult

    Whooping Crane

    Adult
    • Very tall, all-white crane
    • Dark red crown
    • Black wing-tips
    • Thick bill pinkish at base
    • © Norman Carl, Baraboo, Wisconsin, September 2009
  • Adults

    Whooping Crane

    Adults
    • Very large crane with long neck and legs
    • Distinctive in flight with bright white bodies and black wing-tips
    • Dark crown and mustache stripe stripe
    • © Danny Bales, Florida, January 2009
  • Adults

    Whooping Crane

    Adults
    • Large white cranes with black wing-tips
    • Distinctive in flight with long necks and legs trailing behind
    • Dark crown
    • © Ed Schneider, Ashland City, Tennessee, December 2008
  • Adult

    Whooping Crane

    Adult
  • Adult

    Whooping Crane

    Adult
  • Immature

    Whooping Crane

    Immature
  • Adults with Immature

    Whooping Crane

    Adults with Immature

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Sandhill Crane

    Adult
    • Similar in shape to Whooping Crane, but slightly smaller
    • Ashy gray overall
    • Pale face with no dark mustache
    • Solid black bill
    • © Laura Erickson, Florida, December 2005
  • Adult

    Great Egret

    Adult
    • Smaller and more slender than Whooping Crane
    • Flies with long neck curled and tucked in
    • Slender, pointed orange-yellow bill
    • No black on wing-tips
    • © Greg Bishop, Orlando, Florida, November 2008
  • Adults

    American White Pelican

    Adults
    • Stockier than Whooping Crane
    • Neck tucked in against body
    • Short legs don't trail far behind tail
    • Black extends along trailing edge of wings
    • © Ross Michaels, Cherry Creek State Park, Colorado, April 2010
  • Adult white morph

    Snow Goose

    Adult white morph
    • Much smaller and stockier than Whooping Crane
    • Short legs don't extend past tail in flight
    • Stubby pink bill
    • Solid white head
    • © Michael Hogan, Forsythe NWR, New Jersey, March 2006

Similar Species

  • Sandhill Crane has gray and rust-colored plumage, not white, with gray primaries, and red only on crown.
  • American White Pelican similarly colored, but has black extending along length of wings, and short legs that do not extend beyond the body in flight.
  • Snow Goose is smaller, and does not have long bill and long legs extending far behind body in flight.
  • Some herons and egrets are white, but are smaller, have completely white wings, and fly with folded necks.