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A photo of a Whooping Crane (Grus americana)
Whooping Crane

Whooping Crane

Grus americana

The whooping crane, Grus americana, stands as the tallest bird native to North America. Its striking white plumage, black wing tips, and red crown make it an unforgettable sight. The adult whooping crane is predominantly white with these black tips visible in flight. In contrast, juveniles display a cinnamon brown coloration before maturing into the adult's white feathers.

Identification Tips

To identify the whooping crane, look for its long, dark, pointed bill and its unique red crown. In flight, its long neck remains straight, and its legs extend far beyond its tail. The black wing tips are a key distinguishing feature, particularly noticeable when the bird is airborne. The whooping crane's size is also a giveaway; it is one of the largest crane species globally and the heaviest on the continent.

Habitat

Whooping cranes favor marshes for breeding, where they nest on the ground, often on raised areas. These habitats provide the seclusion and resources necessary for raising their young.

Distribution

Historically found throughout midwestern North America and into Mexico, the whooping crane's range has been drastically reduced. Today, they breed in the muskeg of Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada and have been reintroduced to areas such as central Wisconsin, Florida, and Louisiana.

Behaviour

Whooping cranes are known for their complex social behaviors, including their loud, carrying calls and rhythmic unison calls performed by pairs. They are territorial and exhibit strong partnership fidelity, often changing partners and territories less frequently than one might expect.

Song & Calls

The whooping crane's call is a loud, trumpeting sound that can be heard over several kilometers. These calls serve various purposes, from warning of danger to reinforcing pair bonds.

Breeding

The breeding season sees whooping cranes laying 1 or 2 eggs, with incubation lasting 29-31 days. Typically, only one chick survives per season. Parents are known to feed their young for 6-8 months and separate from them around the time of the next breeding season.

Similar Species

The whooping crane can be confused with the sandhill crane, the great egret, the great white heron, and the wood stork. However, its larger size and white plumage with black wing tips help distinguish it from these species.

Diet and Feeding

An omnivorous bird, the whooping crane's diet leans towards animal material. They forage in shallow waters and fields, consuming crustaceans, mollusks, fish, small reptiles, and aquatic plants. Blue crabs are a significant food source during winter in Texas.

Conservation status

The whooping crane is classified as Endangered. Conservation efforts have been ongoing since the mid-20th century when the species was nearly driven to extinction by habitat loss and unregulated hunting. The population has partially recovered due to these efforts, but the species remains at risk, with a total population slightly exceeding 800 individuals as of 2020.

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Whooping Crane Fun Facts

Did you know?
Whooping Cranes population decreased to only 21 individuals in 1941. Through conservation efforts, they have now recovered to around 800 individuals.

Whooping Cranes on Birda

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