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Whooping Crane

The whooping crane (Grus americana) is one of the world’s rarest birds and was listed as endangered in the United States under the Endangered Species Act in 1967. Historically, whooping cranes were found in Louisiana as both a resident, non-migratory flock and migratory birds that wintered in the state. Conversion of the species’ prairie and wetland habitat to farmland and unregulated hunting led to the decline of this species both in Louisiana and across the nation. By 1945, only two whooping cranes remained in Louisiana. In March of 1950, the last remaining whooping crane in Louisiana was captured at White Lake and transported to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the central Texas coast with the hopes that it would join the small migratory flock of whooping cranes there.

For 60 years, whooping cranes were absent from Louisiana's landscape. However, in 2011, LDWF and partners began a reintroduction project, releasing 10 juvenile cranes at White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area. LDWF and partners will continue to release a new cohort of birds every year as part of the overall recovery of the species.

Reintroducing Whooping Cranes to Louisiana

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and LDWF are reintroducing a non-migratory flock of whooping cranes to Louisiana as part of the species recovery plan. The goal of this plan is to downgrade the whooping crane’s status from endangered to threatened. This plan lists a couple options to maintain separate populations before the species’ status can be downgraded:

  1. Maintain a minimum of 40 productive pairs in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo Population and have two additional, separate, and self-sustaining populations consisting of 25 productive pairs each.
  2. Maintain 100 productive pairs in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo Population and have one additional, separate, and self-sustaining population consisting of 30 productive pairs.

There are currently three wild populations of whooping cranes. The only self-sustaining wild population nests in the Northwest Territories and adjacent areas of Alberta, Canada, primarily within the boundaries of Wood Buffalo National Park. The goal of Louisiana’s reintroduction project is to establish a self-sustaining population of non-migratory whooping cranes in southwest Louisiana. (A self-sustaining population requires approximately 120 individuals and 30 productive pairs, with those levels maintained for 10 years without additional restocking.) The objectives of the project are to:

  1. Advance recovery of the endangered whooping crane
  2. Implement a primary recovery action for a federally listed endangered species
  3. Further assess the suitability of southwest Louisiana as whooping crane habitat
  4. Evaluate the suitability of releasing captive and parent-reared whooping cranes, conditioned for wild release, as a technique for establishing a self-sustaining, non-migratory population. 

Information on released cranes, including survival, movements, behavior, causes of mortality, reproductive success, and other data, will be collected and analyzed throughout the project.

reintroduction FAQs annual reports Crane Identification List (as of 12/2/2019)


Recovery and Current Status

Many people had lost hope that whooping cranes could persist in the wild. However, a group of scientists and conservationists made it their mission to save the species. The protection provided by the Endangered Species Act and captive breeding efforts have enabled whooping crane populations to slowly increase from near extinction.

The recovery of the whooping crane has become a conservation success story, but more work is necessary to ensure this species will continue long into the future. The primary threats to whooping cranes relate to the species’ low abundance and limited distribution. Both factors make the species particularly susceptible to natural catastrophes such as drought or hurricanes and human-caused catastrophes such as oil and chemical spills. Poaching is another major threat. While whooping cranes are no longer in imminent danger of extinction, the possibility of extinction in the wild remains high because of the small size of the single, wild, naturally occurring migratory flock. Multiple efforts are underway to create several separate populations through reintroduction projects like the one in Louisiana.

The species is still considered endangered, but as of 2019, there were approximately 700 whooping cranes in three separate wild populations and about 150 individuals in captivity in North America. The naturally occurring wild flock was estimated at 504 individuals during the 2019 annual winter survey conducted along the Texas Gulf Coast and continues to slowly increase, giving hope for the future of the species.

— For More Information —

Contact Sara Zimorski at szimorski@wlf.la.gov or 337.536.7006.



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