The tallest bird in North America, the whooping crane is also one of the most endangered. Fewer than two dozen birds were left in the wild when conservation programs began in the 1940s, and today several hundred birds exist thanks to dedicated captive breeding and reintroduction programs.
- Bill: Long, thick, dull yellow-green or gray
- Size: 52 inches long with 87-inch wingspan, long legs and neck
- Colors: White, black, red, yellow, gray
- Markings: Genders are similar with overall white plumage and black primary feathers that are mostly visible in flight. A patch of bare skin on the crown is red, and a blotchy gray patch is seen on the nape. A dark red wedge-shaped malar stripe extends from the bill to the auriculars. Eyes are pale and the legs and feet are black. Species is monotypic.
Fish, small mammals, amphibians, grain, roots, nuts
Habitat and Migration:
Wild whooping cranes can only be seen in two isolated locations, though sightings in the proper habitats between those locations can be common during migration. In summer, the birds can be found in prairie wetlands, pastures and marshes in Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta, Canada, while in winter they can be found in the saltwater swamps and mudflats of coastal Texas, including at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Rockport, Texas. Additional flocks of whooping cranes are being introduced in Florida and Wisconsin, but they are not yet self-sufficient and are led on migration by ultralight aircraft.
These birds are aptly named for their loud, bugle-like "whoop" call, a single piercing note that can be heard at distances up to two miles. The throaty notes can change pitch slightly but are not likely to be mistaken for other bird calls.
Whooping cranes are territorial birds that remain in pairs or small family groups throughout the year. In flight, they use slow, deliberate wingbeats.
The courtship dance of a whooping crane pair will include leaps, wing flaps, head bobs and other movements mirrored between partners. These birds are monogamous and mate for life, and a pair will raise one brood of 1-3 eggs each year. Both parents incubate the eggs for 30-35 days, and they continue to care for the precocial young for an additional 80-90 days until the young birds' first flight.
Attracting Whooping Cranes:
These endangered cranes are not backyard birds, and intensive habitat preservation is necessary to ensure their continued population growth in suitable areas.