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Whooping Crane

  • Scientific Name:

    Grus americana
  • Native

Description

Tallest flying bird in North America, standing at nearly 5 feet. Weigh 11 to 17 pounds. Wingspan of around 7 feet. Adults are all white except for black feathers on the tips of their wings, a black facial mask, and a bare patch of red skin on the top of their heads. Their bills are dark olive-gray. Juveniles are cinnamon brown and have a mottled appearance as their white feather bases begin to extend.

Range and Habitat

The only self-sustaining wild flock winters in brackish wetlands on the Texas coast at and near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and breeds in freshwater wetlands in and near Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta and the Northwest Territories, Canada in the spring and summer. The non-migratory, reintroduced Louisiana population uses shallow freshwater wetlands and rice-crawfish agriculture "working wetlands."

Whooping cranes spend most of their time in shallow water wetlands where they feed, roost, and nest. Their nests are small islands of vegetation they pull from the marsh. At night, they roost in shallow water that keeps them safe from land predators.

Behavior

Omnivorous and opportunistic, using food sources that are available. Eat insects, minnows, fish, snails, tadpoles, frogs, snakes, blue crabs, crawfish, clams, rodents, small birds and their eggs, berries, earthworms, plant tubers, acorns, grains (corn, rice, wheat), and a variety of other items. Often target areas where food sources have been concentrated or are more easily found such as wetlands that have been drained or upland areas that have been recently burned.

Generally do not start breeding until they are at least three years old; however, some cranes have been documented breeding at age two. When they mate, they usually form life-long, monogamous pairs and will re-pair after the death of a mate. Some pairs split for unknown reasons; however, this is fairly uncommon. Whooping cranes usually nest once each year but may lay additional clutches of eggs if their previous nests are unsuccessful. Occasionally, a pair will skip a nesting season if conditions are unsuitable or sometimes for no apparent reason. Whooping crane pairs have one or two eggs per each nesting attempt. Eggs hatch after one month. In Louisiana, nesting starts as early as mid-February. The parents share egg incubation and rearing duties although the female takes the primary role in brooding the young. A pair with two young often only successfully rears one to the point of flight, which occurs around 80 days of age.

The naturally occurring wild flock migrates from the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas to the Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta and the Northwest Territories, Canada in the spring.

Completely molt their flight feathers every few years. They cannot fly for about 6 weeks as their new feathers grow in.

Live to between 20 and 30 years in the wild and up to 40 years in captivity.

Population Status

Listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act

More Information/References