WatchList Species Account for Whooping Crane
(Grus americana)

Qualifies for the list as a Red List Species


Photo: USFWS
Photo: USFWS

Once found widely during the breeding season in the north-central U.S. and adjacent prairie provinces of Canada, the Whooping Crane is a species which has literally returned from the brink of extinction. In 1941 it numbered only 15 or 16 individuals wintering in Texas, whereas today it numbers more than 260 in the wild and in captivity. Though its numbers are still perilously low, there are reasons to think its future will be brighter than its past.


The species owes its continued existence to the efforts of biologists and other conservationists in the U.S., where it winters, and Canada, where it breeds. It spends the winter in the coastal brackish wetlands in and near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the central Texas coast, and breeds in shallow water wetlands in Wood Buffalo National Park on the border of the Northwest Territories and Alberta. This represents the historical northern limits of its range.


Whooping Cranes are omnivorous and feed on a wide variety of invertebrates and vertebrates, in addition to grains. Cranes are occasionally taken by predators, such as bobcats. With low numbers, the bird remains in peril from factors such as an oil spill or hurricane on the Texas coast, or a disease.


There have been efforts to establish other populations of the bird in the wild. The most recent involves work on the part of a consortium of public and private entities to create a migratory population breeding in Wisconsin at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge and wintering at Chassohowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, Florida. This has involved having chicks imprint on biologists conditioning the birds to follow ultra-light planes on the 1,250 mile trip from Wisconsin to Florida. Several birds that had followed the ultra-lights to Florida managed to make the return trip the following spring on their own, and the hope is that by 2020 there will be a new migratory flock with at least 25 breeding pairs. Collisions with power lines during migration have killed some birds.