Living Bird Magazine
Whooping CraneGrus americana
- ORDER: Gruiformes
- FAMILY: Gruidae
The Whooping Crane is the tallest bird in North America and one of the most awe-inspiring, with its snowy white plumage, crimson cap, bugling call, and graceful courtship dance. It's also among our rarest birds and a testament to the tenacity and creativity of conservation biologists. The species declined to around 20 birds in the 1940s but, through captive breeding, wetland management, and an innovative program that teaches young cranes how to migrate, numbers have risen to about 600 today.More ID Info
Find This Bird
The best place to find Whooping Cranes is during winter at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas. In summer, this population breeds in remote Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada. During migration, you may find Whooping Cranes at classic stopover sites such as Nebraska’s Platte River. Look for Whooping Cranes among much larger numbers of Sandhill Cranes, which are themselves a thrilling sight for a bird watcher.
- Grulla Trompetera (Spanish)
- Grue blanche (French)
- Cool Facts
- Weighing 15 pounds, the Whooping Crane has a wingspan of more than 7 feet and is as tall as many humans, reaching a height of around 5 feet. Also measuring 5 feet in length is its trachea, which coils into its sternum and allows the bird to give a loud call that carries long distances over the marsh. The Whooping Crane probably gets its name from either its single-note guard call or its courtship duet.
- The Whooping Crane walks with a smooth and stately gait. Its courtship dance is a spectacle of leaping, kicking, head-pumping, and wing-sweeping.
- In 1941 there were only 21 Whooping Cranes left: 15 were migrants between Canada and Texas while the rest lived year-round in Louisiana. The Louisiana population went extinct, and all 600 of today’s Whooping Cranes (about 440 in the wild and 160 in captivity) are descended from the small flock that breeds in Texas.
- The only self-sustaining population of Whooping Cranes is the naturally occurring flock that breeds in Canada and winters in Texas. Three reintroduced populations exist with the help of captive breeding programs. One of these is migratory: researchers use ultralight aircraft to teach young cranes to migrate between Wisconsin breeding grounds and Florida wintering grounds.
- The oldest Whooping Crane on record - banded in the Northwest Territories in 1977 - was at least 28 years, 4 months old when it was found in Saskatchewan in 2005.