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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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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
59.1 in
150 cm
Wingspan
90.2 in
229 cm
Weight
211.6–275.1 oz
6000–7800 g
Other Names
  • Grue blanche (French)
  • Grulla blanca (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The population of Whooping Cranes has been rising steadily, at about four percent per year. The population reached 100 in 1987, about 250 in early 1995, and 468 by the end of 2004, with 213 in the wild.
  • Whooping Crane recovery efforts involve multiple agencies in the public, private, and nonprofit sector in the United States and Canada. Such efforts include habitat management, captive breeding, and leading birds along migration routes with ultralight aircraft.
  • The trachea (windpipe) of the Whooping Crane coils about 23 cm (9 inches) into its sternum (breast bone) while the bird calls, increasing volume and allowing for variation in pitch.
  • Whooping Cranes are territorial in both summer and winter, living in family groups. Newly paired cranes often locate their first territory near that of their parents.
  • In 1975 in an experimental effort to establish a second migratory wild flock of Whooping Cranes, eggs were transferred to nests of Sandhill Cranes at Gray's Lake National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Idaho. The Sandhill Crane "foster parents" raised the Whooping Cranes and took them to wintering grounds at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. These cross-fostered cranes, however, failed to form pair bonds with each other, pairing instead with Sandhill Cranes, and also suffered high mortality rates. The program was discontinued in 1989 and no Whooping Cranes survive in this population.

Habitat


Marsh

Breeds in freshwater marshes and prairies. Uses grain fields, shallow lakes and lagoons, and saltwater marshes on migration and in winter.

Food


Omnivore

Wide variety of plant and animal matter, including mollusks, crustaceans, insects, fish, frogs, and waste grain.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
1–3 eggs
Egg Description
Light brown with variable brown blotches.
Condition at Hatching
Covered with down and able to walk and swim soon after hatching. Feed themselves within one day.
Nest Description

Mound of vegetation with shallow depression on top for eggs, placed on ground in marsh.

Nest Placement

Ground

Behavior


Probing

In courtship, Whooping Cranes perform an elaborate dance display with leaps, sweeps, wing flaps, head tosses, and flinging of light objects such as feathers and grass.Feeds on the ground, pecking, probing, and stabbing food with bill.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Endangered

Severely endangered. Reduced to 16 individuals in 1941. Captive breeding established a captive population and efforts have been made to establish additional wild populations in Florida and Wisconsin, neither of which is yet self-sustaining. Probably safe from imminent extinction, but threats remain. Limited habitat, though protected, leaves the birds vulnerable to catastrophic weather events or contaminant spills. Development near wintering sites also poses a concern. Collisions with power lines have killed or injured at least 19 Whooping Cranes since 1956. Two Whooping Cranes were shot by hunters in Kansas in November 2004, mistaken for Sandhill Cranes, a game species. Continued intensive management of habitat, captive breeding and reintroduction programs, and population monitoring will be essential to the well-being of the species.

Credits

Range Map Help

Whooping Crane Range Map
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