Whooping Crane

Scientific name: Grus americana
IUCN designation: Endangered

The Whooping Crane has recovered from the brink of extinction in the early 1940’s with only 15 individuals remaining to just over 500 in the wild population in 2019. The AMASS project features this North American species that continues to be a national symbol for conservation and international cooperation1.

Capable of reaching a height of 1.5 m (5 ft) and having a wingspan of 2.1 m (7 ft), the Whooping Crane is North America’s tallest bird2! It can be easily identified by its white plumage, long neck, red crown, black wingtips and long black legs which trail behind in flight3.

There are three active populations of the Whooping Crane6. The only naturally occurring, self-sustaining wild population breeds exclusively in the wetlands of Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) in Alberta and the Northwest Territories4. This flock completes long spring and autumnal migrations of 4000 km (2485 mi) each way over a period of fifty days each time, across the Great Plains of North America to and from its wintering grounds at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Texas, USA5.

Hunting and habitat loss because of cropland conversion decimated the Whooping Crane population in the 19th and first half of the 20th century6.

The Whooping Crane population has resurged, thanks to conservation efforts including: establishment of federal legislation and international agreements to protect and recover endangered species (e.g. the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Species at Risk Act); captive breeding and release programs; reintroduction of flocks.

In December 2018, during the annual winter survey at Aransas NWR, 505 Whooping Cranes were reported; a historic high for the WNBP/Aransas NWR flock7.

Now, the recovery and survival of the endangered Whooping Crane depends highly on conserving the integrity of the wetland habitats found at its breeding, staging, migratory stopover and overwintering sites, all of which are highlighted in the AMASS project.