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Grus americana

Grus americana (*)

Cladus: Eukaryota
Supergroup: Opisthokonta
Regnum: Animalia
Subregnum: Eumetazoa
Cladus: Bilateria
Cladus: Nephrozoa
Cladus: Deuterostomia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
Superclassis: Tetrapoda
Classis: Aves
Subclassis: Carinatae
Infraclassis: Neornithes
Parvclassis: Neognathae
Ordo: Gruiformes
Familia: Gruidae
Subfamilia: Gruinae
Genus: Grus
Species: Grus americana


Grus americana Linnaeus, 1758


Grus americana Report on ITIS
IUCN link: Grus americana (Endangered)

Vernacular names
Deutsch: Schreikranich
English: Whooping Crane
한국어: 아메리카흰두루미
Nederlands: Trompetkraanvogel
日本語: アメリカシロヅル
Türkçe: Haykıran turna

The Whooping Crane (Grus americana), the tallest North American bird, is an endangered crane species named for its whooping sound. Along with the Sandhill Crane, it is one of only two crane species found in North America. The whooping crane's lifespan is estimated to be 22 to 24 years in the wild. There is an estimate of only 400+ left in the wild.[2]

Physical characteristics

Adult whooping cranes are white with a red crown and a long, dark, pointed bill. Immature whooping cranes are pale brown. While in flight, their long necks are kept straight and their long dark legs trail behind. Adult whooping cranes' black wing tips are visible during flight.

The species can stand over 1.5 meters (5 feet) and have a wingspan of 2.3 meters (7.5 feet). Males weigh on average 7.0 kg (17 lb), while females weigh about 6.0 kg (14 lb).[3] The body length averages about 132 cm (52 in).[4] The only other very large, long-legged white birds in North America are: the Great Egret, which is over a foot shorter and one-seventh the weight of this crane; the Great White Heron, which is a morph of the Great Blue Heron in Florida; and the Wood Stork. All three other birds are at least 30% smaller than the whooping crane. Herons and storks are also quite different in structure from the crane.[5]

Whooping cranes breed in marshes.

The whooping cranes' breeding habitat is the muskeg of the taiga; the only known remaining nesting location is Whooping Crane Summer Range in Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, Canada and the surrounding area. With the recent Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership Reintroduction Project, whooping cranes nested naturally for the first time in 100 years in the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Central Wisconsin, USA. They nest on the ground, usually on a raised area in a marsh. The female lays 1 or 2 eggs, usually in late-April to mid-May. The blotchy, olive-colored eggs average 2½ inches in breadth and 4 inches in length (60 by 100 mm), and weigh about 6.7 oz (190 g). The incubation period is 29–35 days. Both parents brood the young, although the female is more likely to directly tend to the young. Usually no more than one young bird survives in a season. The parents often feed the young for 6–8 months after birth and the terminus of the offspring-parent relationship occurs after about 1 year.

Breeding populations winter along the Gulf coast of Texas, USA near Corpus Christi on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and along Sunset Lake in Portland, Matagorda Island, Isla San Jose, and portions of the Lamar Peninsula and Welder Point, which is on the east side of San Antonio Bay.[6]

The Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma is a major migratory stopover for the crane population hosting over 75% of the species annually.[7][8]

The whooping crane is endangered mainly as a result of habitat loss, although whoopers are also still illegally shot despite this being subject to substantial financial penalties and possible prison time.[9][10][11]

At one time, the range for these birds extended throughout midwestern North America. In 1941, the wild population consisted of 21 birds. Conservation efforts have led to a population increase; as of April 2007 there were about 340 whooping cranes living in the wild, and another 145 living in captivity. The whooping crane is still one of the rarest birds in North America. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed that 266 whooping cranes made the migration to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in 2007.[12]


Among the many potential nest and brood predators include American Black Bear (Ursus americanus), Wolverine (Gulo gulo), Gray Wolf (Canis lupus), Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Lynx (Lynx canadensis), Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), and Common Raven (Corvus corax). Adults have very few predators, as even eagles are unlikely to be able to take one down. The Bobcat is the only natural predator known to be both powerful and stealthy enough to prey on adult whooping cranes away from their nesting grounds.[5]

During the past two years, five whooping cranes in the Eastern population, which numbers about 100 in total, have been illegally shot and killed. One of the dead cranes was the female ("First Mom") who was the first captive raised and released whooper to successfully raise, along with her mate, a chick to adulthood in the wild in the East, in 2006. This was a particular blow to that population because whoopers in the East do not yet have an established successful breeding situation. Various agencies and individuals have offered rewards for the apprehension of the persons responsible. [9][10][11]

Although the individuals responsible for the deaths of four of the cranes have not yet been apprehended, on March 30, 2011, Wade Bennett, 18, of Cayuga, Indiana and an unnamed juvenile pled guilty to killing First Mom. After killing the crane, the juvenile had posed holding up its body. Bennett and the juvenile were sentenced to a $1 fine, probation, and court fees of about $500, a penalty which was denounced by various conservation organizations as being too light. The prosecuting attorney has estimated that the cost of raising and introducing to the wild one whooping crane could be as much as $100,000.[13][14][15][16]


These birds forage while walking in shallow water or in fields, sometimes probing with their bills. They are omnivorous and slightly more inclined to animal material than most other cranes. In their Texas wintering grounds, this species feeds on various crustaceans, mollusks, fish (such as eel), berries, small reptiles and aquatic plants. Potential foods of breeding birds in summer include frogs, small rodents, smaller birds, fish, aquatic insects, crayfish, clams, snails, aquatic tubers and, berries. Waste grain, including wheat and barley, is an important food for migrating whooping cranes.[5]

Conservation efforts

The whooping crane was declared endangered in 1967. Attempts have been made to establish other breeding populations in captivity.

One project by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service was initiated in 1975 involved cross-fostering with Sandhill Cranes to establish a second self-sustaining flock. Although 85 chicks from the 289 whooping crane eggs transplanted into Sandhill Crane nests learned to migrate,[17] the whooping cranes failed to mate with other whooping cranes due to imprinting on their Sandhill foster parents; the project was discontinued in 1989.[18] This effort and the problem of imprinting is explored in the 1976 documentary A Great White Bird.[19]
A second involved the establishment of a non-migratory population near Kissimmee, Florida by a cooperative effort led by the U.S. and Canadian Whooping Crane Recovery Team in 1993.[20] As of December 18, 2006, this population numbers about 53 birds;[21] while problems with high mortality and lack of reproduction are addressed no further birds will be added to the population.
A third attempt has involved reintroducing the whooping crane to a new flyway established east of the Mississippi river. This project uses isolation rearing of young whooping cranes and trains them to follow ultralight aircraft, a method of re-establishing migration routes pioneered by Bill Lishman and Joe Duff when they led Canada Geese in migration from Ontario, Canada, to Virginia and South Carolina in 1993.[22] The non-profit organization which is responsible for the ultralight migrations is Operation Migration,[23] and the larger group, WCEP (the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership), oversees all aspects of the Eastern Introduced Flock.
One whooping crane from the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) has been the recipient of special attention from conservationists for several years. This crane was given the name "Number 16-05" because he was the sixteenth whooping crane to be tracked and tagged in 2005. That year, #16-05 collided with an ultralight plane, and because of an injury resulting from this collision, he missed the autumn portion of that year's northern migration. He also had difficulty flying during his juvenile winter, however, he exhibited no flying impairment during the spring migration.[24]

In 1957, the whooping crane was featured on a U.S. postage stamp supporting wildlife conservation.

Subsequent to hatching, the Operation Migration cranes are taught to follow their ultralight aircraft, fledged over their future breeding territory in Wisconsin, and led by ultralight on their first migration from Wisconsin to Florida; the birds learn the migratory route and then return, on their own, the following spring. This reintroduction began in fall 2001 and has added birds to the population in each subsequent year (Except that in early 2007, a disastrous storm killed all of the 2006 yearlings after their arrival in Florida.).

As of September, 2007, there were 52 surviving whooping cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP), including 2 of the 4 yearlings released in Wisconsin and allowed to migrate on their own (Direct Autumn Release (DAR)). Fourteen of these birds had formed seven pairs; two of the pairs nested and produced eggs in spring 2005. The eggs were lost due to parental inexperience. In spring 2006 some of the same pairs have again nested and are incubating eggs. Two whooping crane chicks were hatched from one nest, on June 22, 2006. Their parents are both birds that were hatched and led by ultralight on their first migration in 2002. At just 4 years old these are young parents. The chicks are the first whooping cranes hatched in the wild, of migrating parents, east of the Mississippi, in over 100 years. One of these young chicks was unfortunately predated on the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. The other young chick, a female, has successfully migrated with her parents to Florida. As noted above, in early February, 2007, 17 yearlings in a group of 18 were killed by the 2007 Central Florida tornadoes. All birds in that flock were believed to have died in the storms, but then a signal from one of the transmitters, "Number 615", indicated that it had survived. The bird was subsequently relocated in the company of some Sandhill Cranes. It died in late April from an as yet unknown cause, possibly related to the storm trauma. Two of the 4 DAR Whooper chicks from 2006 were also lost due to predation.[25][26]

In Wood Buffalo National Park, the Canadian Wildlife Service counted 73 mating pairs in 2007. They produced 80 chicks, of which 40 survived to the fall migration, and 39 completed the migration to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.[12]


Natural History article by Paul Johnsgard (1982)
Whooping Crane (Grus americana) from Paul Johnsgard, Cranes of the World (1983)
"Whooping Crane(Grus americana)". Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Retrieved December 9, 2006.
McNulty, Faith, The Wildlife Stories of Faith McNulty, Chap.6 "The Whooping Crane" (pages 121-309), Doubleday 1980 (Chap. 6 was originally published as a book of the same title by E.P. Dutton in 1966). Much of her account deals with the work of Robert Porter Allen.
Tesky, Julie L. (1993). "Grus americana". U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory. Retrieved December 9, 2006.
"Whooping Crane: On a Lost Path". U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alamosa/Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. Retrieved December 9, 2006.
"Whooping Crane Flock Status". Whooping Crane Conservation Association. Retrieved January 27, 2007.
"Whooping Crane". International Crane Foundation, Baraboo, Wisconsin. Retrieved December 9, 2006.
Famous Photographer Thomas Mangelsen made the film "Flight of the Whooping Crane" to help bring them back from the brink of extinction. Images of Nature Online
The whooping crane makes frequent appearances throughout Tom Robbins' novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues which includes details of their physical characteristics and migratory patterns.


^ BirdLife International (2006). Grus americana. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 11 May 2006. Database entry includes a range map and justification for why this species is endangered
^ whooping crane Status and Fact Sheet. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved on: February 03, 2008
^ "Whooping Crane (Grus americana)". Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Retrieved 2007-12-20.
^ http://www.nebraskabirdlibrary.org/index.php/gruiformes/gruidae/whooping-crane.html
^ a b c http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/153/articles/introduction
^ Tesky, Julie (1993). "Grus americana". Fire Effects Information System. USDA Forest Service. Retrieved 2009-11-23.
^ "NPS NNL description of Salt Plains". National Park Service.
^ "Species Status and Fact Sheet: WHOOPING CRANE". U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
^ "Endangered whooping cranes shot dead" CNN, 12 Jan 2011[1]
^ "Endangered whooping crane shot to death in Ala." "WSFA", 10 Feb 2011[2]
^ "Endangered whooping crane shot and killed" "Animal Planet", 14 Dec 2009 [3]
^ a b Unrau, Jason (2007-12-17). "Whooping cranes sighted in record numbers". Canadian Press. Retrieved 2007-12-17.
^ "Citizen Tip Leads to Closure of Whooping Crane Shooting in Indiana" "U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service News", 18 Apr 2011[4]
^ "Operation Migration Field Journal, entry All for a Buck", 29 Apr 2011[5]
^ "What Price Do We Put on an Endangered Bird?" "Smithsonian", 26 Apr 2011[6]
^ [8]
^ [9]
^ A Great White Bird, National Film Board of Canada
^ [10]
^ [11]
^ Florida Whooping Crane Non-Migratory Flock (Synopsis)
^ Crane Migration Operation Migration.
^ [12]
^ "Single whooping crane survives Florida tornadoes". BirdLife International. 2007-06-02. Retrieved 2007-12-20.
^ "Field Journal". Operation Migration Inc. Retrieved 2007-12-20.

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