May 11
Photo of whooping cranes foraging in a corn field during spring migration

Whooping crane (Grus americana)

Species: Whooping crane (Grus americana)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America, reaching up to 1.5 metres in height.

Named for its whooping call, the whooping crane represents one of the best-known conservation success stories in North America. This large white bird is marked with red and black on the face, and has black wing-tips. Whooping cranes usually mate for life, and have a varied diet consisting of crabs, clams, small fish, insects, frogs and other wetland animals, as well as berries and grain. The whooping crane undertakes spectacular migrations of thousands of miles from its nesting grounds in northern North America to its feeding grounds in the south.

Once widespread across North America, the whooping crane has undergone a dramatic decline in recent centuries. By the mid-20th century its migratory population had been reduced to just 16 individuals, and its non-migratory population disappeared entirely. This huge decline resulted from wetland clearance and drainage, as well as egg collecting, hunting and other human disturbances. Human development and collisions with power lines still present threats to this large wetland bird today. Fortunately, the whooping crane has been the subject of concerted conservation efforts, including habitat protection, population monitoring and a captive breeding programme, with captive-bred individuals being released back into the wild. As a result of these efforts, the total whooping crane population has increased to around 599 birds.

Find out more about whooping crane conservation at the International Crane Foundation and the Whooping Crane Conservation Association.

See images and videos of the whooping crane on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author