About the Whooping Crane

The whooping crane (Grus americana) is one of just two crane species found in North America. As the tallest flying bird in North America, it stands five feet tall and has a seven to eight foot wing span! Adult whooping cranes are entirely white in color except for black legs and feet, black wingtips, black facial markings, and a red patch on their head. Both male and female whooping cranes perform mating displays which feature head bobbing and jumping up and down, and these birds have a distinctive trumpeting bugle which is louder than the call of the sandhill crane. Learn more about how to identify a whooping crane by its behavior in this Field Guide to Crane Behavior from the International Crane Foundation. 

The whooping crane is thought to have once been found throughout much of North America, and is believed to have numbered between 700 and 1,500 birds in the 1800s. By the 1940s, however, the migratory population had dropped to 16 individuals due to habitat loss and unregulated hunting and was reduced to one naturally occuring, migrating population. Today, thanks to protection from the Endangered Species Act along with the Whooping Crane Recovery Plan, the total number of both wild and captive whooping cranes has reached 600 (as of Feb 2015, USFWS).

Operation Migration

One partnership which has impacted this great recovery effort is the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership. This group of government and non-profit agencies is working to establish a self-sustaining eastern migrating population of whooping crane. Each year, captive-hatched cranes in Wisconsin are reared and trained to survive in the wild and they are flight-trained to follow a light sport aircraft along a migration route south. Today, September 30, 2015, marks the beginning of their southward journey. If you are interested in keeping up with this amazing whooping crane migration, you can read updates from the FIeld Journal of Operation Migration. Later this year, these cranes will pass through Alabama as they migrate behind the aircraft to their wintering grounds. Just in case there weren't enough migratory birds to enjoy watching as they migrate, the whooping cranes provide birders with even more reason to keep an eye to the sky this fall.

Go Explore!

Photos by: (top to bottom) Steve Gifford/CC BY 2.0; USFWS/CC BY 2.0 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015