Threatened and Endangered Species Whooping Crane Fact
Threatened and Endangered Species: Whooping Crane Grus americana Fact
OFFICIAL STATUS: Endangered. Endangered species are species that are in
danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range. It
is unlawful to kill, harm, or harass endangered species.
LISTED: 35 Federal Register 8495; June 2, 1970.
HISTORICAL STATUS: The historical breeding range of the whooping crane extended
from Illinois, northwest through North Dakota and up to the Northwest
Territories. The birds historically wintered along the Gulf of Mexico. By 1941
there were only an estimated 16 whooping cranes left in the world. All were from
a flock that wintered at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the coast of
Texas. It was later discovered that the birds were breeding in Wood Buffalo
National Park in the Northwest Territories.
PRESENT STATUS: About 145 whooping cranes migrate across Montana from Wood
Buffalo National Park to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The spring
migration occurs from late April to mid-June. Whooping cranes are occasionally
sighted in southwestern Montana’s Centennial Valley and in the extreme northeast
corner of the state near Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
HABITAT: Whooping cranes inhabit shallow wetlands that are characterized by
cattails, bulrushes, and sedges. They can also be found in upland areas,
especially during migration.
LIFE HISTORY: Whooping cranes do not appear to reach sexual maturity until their
2nd or 3rd year. Courtship occurs at Wood Buffalo National Park in late April
and May. Courtship rituals are eccentric with the pair performing loud
vocalizations, wing flapping, head bowing and leaps into the air. Whooping
cranes mate for life. Two eggs are laid in a nest made of bulrush and other
vegetation. Incubation is about 29 days. Both parents incubate the eggs and feed
the young. Usually only the larger chick survives due to its more aggressive
behavior. Young cranes are capable of flight in about 90 days. Whooping cranes
may live 20 years. They feed on crabs, crayfish, frogs, and other small aquatic
life as well as plants.
AID TO IDENTIFICATION: The whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America.
It is a white bird with black wingtips and red markings on the head. Young birds
have a brown-mottled appearance until their second summer. Whooping cranes are 5
feet tall and have wingspans of 7 feet. They fly with a slow downward flap and a
rapid upstroke. Whooping cranes may migrate with the smaller, gray, sandhill
crane. The trumpet like call carries for miles.
REASONS FOR DECLINE: Loss of habitat and shooting are the main reasons for the
whooping crane’s decline.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Many of the wild whooping cranes are marked with colored leg
bands. Make observations of these birds and report them to a wildlife agency.
COMMENTS: The status of whooping cranes in the wild is precarious because the
birds concentrate during the winter. Oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico are a
potential threat. Eggs from wild birds (11 per nest) have been removed and
hatched in captivity. The captive birds are now reproducing.
REFERENCES: Whooping Crane Recovery Plan by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
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