eileenmak/Flickr CC (BY 2.0)">

Whooping Crane. Photo: eileenmak/Flickr CC (BY 2.0)

Priority Bird

Whooping Crane

Grus americana

One of the rarest North American birds, and also one of the largest and most magnificent. Once fairly widespread on the northern prairies, it was brought to the brink of extinction in the 1940s, but strict protection has brought the wild population back to well over one hundred. The flock that winters on the central Texas coast flies 2400 miles north to nest in Wood Buffalo National Park in central Canada; this remote breeding area was not discovered until 1954.
Conservation status Endangered. Whoopers once nested on the northern prairies south to present-day Iowa and Illinois, but they disappeared as settlers moved in. As recently as 1912, about 90 birds wintered at various points in coastal Texas and Louisiana, and there was a nonmigratory population in southwestern Louisiana as well. By 1941 the Texas wintering flock was down to only 15 birds (another six were still resident in Louisiana, but that flock soon dwindled away). After 1941, numbers very gradually rose again, helped by protection on the wintering grounds and public education against shooting; by the mid-1990s, the Texas wintering flock approached 150. Attempts to start a new flock farther west (by putting Whooper eggs under Sandhill Cranes in Idaho) failed, but in the 1990s a new project aimed to start a nonmigratory flock in Florida, using birds raised in captivity. Most recently, an ambitious project has established a new flock that summers in Wisconsin, with young birds raised and then trained to follow an ultralight aircraft to Florida for their first southward migration.
Family Cranes
Habitat Muskeg (summer); prairie pools, marshes. Current breeding habitat is in remote northern forest, in areas of muskeg (swampy coniferous woods with numerous lakes and ponds). Formerly also nested in prairie marshes. Winters in coastal marsh, where adult pairs and families defend territories, returning to same territory each winter.
One of the rarest North American birds, and also one of the largest and most magnificent. Once fairly widespread on the northern prairies, it was brought to the brink of extinction in the 1940s, but strict protection has brought the wild population back to well over one hundred. The flock that winters on the central Texas coast flies 2400 miles north to nest in Wood Buffalo National Park in central Canada; this remote breeding area was not discovered until 1954.
Photo Gallery
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  • juvenile
  • adult
  • adults
Feeding Behavior

See family introduction.


Eggs

2, sometimes 1 or 3. Olive-buff, spotted with dark brown. Incubation is by both sexes, 29-31 days; female usually incubates at night. Young: Downy young leave nest within a few hours after hatching. Both parents feed young. Two eggs typically hatch, but very rarely or never does more than one young bird survive. Young is able to fly at about 3 months after hatching.


Young

Downy young leave nest within a few hours after hatching. Both parents feed young. Two eggs typically hatch, but very rarely or never does more than one young bird survive. Young is able to fly at about 3 months after hatching.

Diet

Omnivorous. In winter, eats insects, shrimp, crabs, clams, snails, frogs, snakes, small fish, seeds, acorns, roots, berries. Summer diet not well known, probably a similarly wide variety of animal and plant matter.


Nesting

In courtship, pairs "dance," leaping into air repeatedly with flapping wings, bills pointed upward, giving bugling calls; dance has a dignified look. Other displays include bowing, tossing tufts of grass in the air, and loud trumpeting or "whooping" calls. Nest site is on ground, typically on marshy island in lake or pond. Nest (built by both sexes) is a large mound of grass, weeds, mud, with depression at center.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Migrates by day, in family groups or small flocks. Travels along rather narrow corridors and makes traditional stopovers. Although they may travel in flocks, in winter they mostly separate out into family groups, each pair of adults defending a feeding territory against intruding cranes.

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Migration

Migrates by day, in family groups or small flocks. Travels along rather narrow corridors and makes traditional stopovers. Although they may travel in flocks, in winter they mostly separate out into family groups, each pair of adults defending a feeding territory against intruding cranes.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A trumpet-like call that can be heard for several miles.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Cranes Long-legged Waders

Whooping Crane

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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