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Whooping Crane Grus americana


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Whooping Crane, adult in grass
credit: Sasata/CCSA

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Family: Gruidae, Cranes view all from this family

Description ADULT Has mainly white plumage with black primaries, black mask, and red crown. Bill is dull yellowish and legs are dark. JUVENILE (seldom seen away from adult's company) Recalls adult, but unmarked head and neck are flushed orange-buff and has extensive reddish buff feathering on back and wing coverts. Bill and legs are gray.

Dimensions Length: 45-50" (1.1-1.3 m); Wngspn: 7' 6" (2.3 m)

Endangered Status The Whooping Crane is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as endangered in Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. The majestic Whooping Crane was reduced by hunting and habitat destruction to about 15 birds in 1937. Strictly protected and monitored since then, the population has grown to more than 300 birds. A population of about 175 cranes breeds in Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada, on the Alberta-Mackenzie border, and winters on the Gulf coast of Texas at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. A program to reintroduce endangered Whooping Cranes at Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho ultimately failed. Whooping Crane eggs were hatched by Sandhill Crane foster parents, but the resulting offspring, having imprinted on the Sandhill Cranes, failed to mate with other Whooping Cranes. Some cranes winter at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, and a year-round flock now lives in Kissimmee Prairie, Florida. Attempts are being made to establish a migrating flock in the East.

Habitat Rare, breeding on undisturbed wetland marshes. The only self-sustaining population nests in Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta, and winters at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas. Small, captive or feral (non-migratory) populations exist elsewhere (e.g. in Florida).

Observation Tips Visit Aransas NWR in Texas in winter to see wild birds (the population was estimated to be 249 birds in 2009).

Range Southwest, Texas, Western Canada, Plains, Rocky Mountains

Voice Utters loud, trumpeting and bugling calls.

Discussion Tall, upright bird; adult is unmistakable. One of North America's most endangered species and subject to considerable conservation interest. Sexes are similar.