The whooping crane (Grus americana), the tallest North American bird, is an endangered crane species named for its whooping sound. Along with the sandhill crane, it is one of only two crane species found in North America. The whooping crane's lifespan is estimated to be 22 to 24 years in the wild.
For more than 60 years, the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population of whooping cranes has been counted in the same way. In 1950, when whooping crane aerial “census” efforts began, all of the whooping cranes’ known territories were located on the Blackjack Peninsula of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
But, Whooping Cranes face many dangers in the wild. Coyotes, wolves, bobcats, and golden eagles kill adult cranes. Bears, ravens, and crows eat eggs and mink eat crane chicks. When they are flying in storms or poor light they sometimes crash into power lines. And they die of several types of diseases.
The whooping crane is also one of the nation’s most famous comeback stories. As many as 20,000 whooping cranes were once found throughout North America. But by 1941, habitat loss and unregulated hunting—in part for the birds’ plumage—had reduced the whooping crane’s numbers to less than two dozen individuals in the wild.
Today, three populations exist: one in the Kissimmee Prairie of Florida, the only migratory population at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, and a very small captive-bred population in Wisconsin. Whooping cranes mate for life, but will accept a new mate if one dies. These long-lived birds cranes can live up to 24 years in the wild.
Whooping crane survival depends on additional, separated populations. Other threats include vandals and power lines. 20% of the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes have been shot, a disappointing statistic given the effort put forth by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership to establish this important flock.
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...
Beginning in 2001, human-raised Whooping Crane young have been released in the wild in Wisconsin and allowed to follow ultra-light aircraft to wintering grounds in Florida, mirroring the movements of their Sandhill Crane cousins in the same areas. To date, there are over 100 Whooping Cranes in this population.
How many whooping cranes exist today? What causes their numbers to change from year to year? why does rebuilding an endangered species take so long? Population Numbers: Why the Gains or Losses? Scientists who study changes in the number and ...
We are witnessing an important time for this endangered species. The still-fragile population is slowly climbing from an all-time low of just 15 wild migratory cranes in 1941. The long-term recovery goal is a self-sustaining population of at least 1,000 Whooping cranes in North America by 2035.