Whooping Crane (Grus americana)

Photo Gallery

Whooping crane. Photo: Lewis Scharpf/Audubon Photography Awards
Whooping crane. Photo: Lewis Scharpf/Audubon Photography Awards

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Whooping Crane. Photo: Karen Willes/Audubon Photography Awards
Whooping Crane. Photo: Karen Willes/Audubon Photography Awards

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Whooping Crane. Photo: David Browning/Audubon Photography Awards
Whooping Crane. Photo: David Browning/Audubon Photography Awards

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Whooping crane. Photo: Lewis Scharpf/Audubon Photography Awards
Whooping crane. Photo: Lewis Scharpf/Audubon Photography Awards

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Whooping Crane

Grus americana

Family Gruidae

Cranes

Length:  50-60 in

Wing span:  7 ft 6 in

Weight:  15 lb

Vocalization

The Whooping Crane has a trumpet-like call that can be heard for miles.  Their call is often referred to as the bugle call, which lasts about a second, and it is given when the birds are startled.  They also make the call in unison while courting.  Below are a couple of examples.


 

(Recordings from xeno-canto.org. Spectrographs generated in Audacity)

WHCR_Bugle CallBill Evans
00:00 / 00:24
WHCR_Bugle CallSue Riffe
00:00 / 00:36
WHCR_Bill Evans.jpg
WHCR_Sue Riffe.jpg

Description

Whooping Cranes are large birds that are nearly all white except for the red crown, black face mask, and black primary feathers which are most visible in flight.  The red crown is the most notable characteristic; it extends from the cheek along the bill and over the head, and is almost featherless.  

 

The eyes are yellow, the legs are black, and the black bill is stout and straight.  Sexes are similar, the birds mate for life and have a life span of about 25 years in the wild. 

The Whooping Crane is the largest bird in North America.

Immature:  The juvenile has a rust-brown head and upper neck, and a brown wash over a mostly whitish body.

 

Habitat

The Whooping Crane breeds in shallow, grassy wetlands, interspersed with grasslands or scattered evergreens. During migration they favor wide shallow river flats.  In winter, they reside mainly in coastal marshes and estuaries. They sometimes will forage in agricultural fields during migration and in winter.

Foods & Foraging

Whooping Cranes are omnivores that consume a variety of insects, crustaceans, frogs, snakes, small fish, seeds, acorns, roots and berries.  The summer diet is less well known, but eat a variety of plant and animal matter.  They forage by moving slowly, steadily while probing for food, unlike herons that use stealth to hunt for food.

Range Map

whooping map.jpg

Historically, the Whooping Crane once breed throughout the upper Midwest and northwest Canada and wintered along the Gulf Coast. Today, there are two migratory populations and two non-migratory populations.

The naturally migrating population (AWP) winters at Aransas NWR in Texas and breeds in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada. The non-naturally migrating population (EMP) winters at Chassahowitzka NWR in Florida. One of the non-migratory (FP) populations can be found near Kissimmee in Florida; the other (LP) occurs in Louisiana.

Here is a link to an interactive map showing real-time location of Whooping Cranes.

Click here to see how the range of the Whooping Crane could be reshaped due to climate change.

Local Distribution

 

The Whooping Cranes that are found in our area are part of the non-natural migratory population that breeds in Wisconsin and winters in Florida.  As birds migrate to the wintering area in Florida they do spend time at several stopover habitats in Indiana along the way.

Places nearby to find Whooping Cranes include: Patoka River NWR; Goose Pond FWA; Cane Ridge WMA and Gibson Lake SW Borrow Pits.

Arrival/Departure

WHCR_barjpg.jpg

Conservation Status

Before human settlement, the Whooping Crane population was estimated to be around 15,000 to 20,000 birds.  The population fell drastically to 1,400 birds by 1860 and then to about 15 by 1941.  Loss of habitat and hunting were the major driving forces behind the population declines.  By 1967 the Whooping Crane was listed as endangered.

 

But with co-operative wetland management and captive breeding programs by various government and private organizations the Whooping Crane is showing a slow increase in population.  By 1970 there were 57 birds and 214 by 2005.  Today the International Crane Foundation estimates about 808 birds; 506 from the Aransas population, 80 from the Eastern migratory population; 75 from the Louisiana non-migratory population, 9 from the non-migratory Florida population, and and additional 138 birds that are bred in captivity.

 

Early conservation efforts were attempted to start a population in Idaho, but that venture failed.  The Louisiana and Florida non-migratory populations highlighted the problem that these birds did not develop migratory behavior.  To overcome this problem an innovative solution was attempted to try to train chicks to follow an ultralight between breeding and wintering areas.  The success of this solution has resulted in the migration of the Eastern population between Wisconsin and Florida. 

The Whooping Crane is on several watch lists and ICUN lists them as Endangered:  

Whooping Crane:  Endangered

Riskjpg.jpg

Endangered category includes birds that are at a high risk of becoming extinct.