Whooping Crane Recovery Plan Revised
Tom MacKenzie, 404/679-7291 or
Tom Stehn, National Whooping Crane Coordinator, 361-286-3559
The U. S. Fish and Wildlife
Service revised the Recovery
Plan for the endangered whooping
crane. The Recovery Plan provides objectives
and actions needed to change the crane’s status from endangered
to threatened and ultimately recover the species so that it no longer
requires the protection of the Endangered Species Act. This third revision
to the Recovery Plan was developed by a team of experts and interested
parties from the United States and Canada, and has been adopted by both
countries as a roadmap to recover the species.
In the United States, the whooping crane was listed as endangered in
1970, and critical habitat was designated in 1978. In Canada, it was
designated as endangered in 1978. The current recovery goal is to reclassify
(downlist) the species from endangered to threatened status.
The recovery strategy includes: protecting breeding, wintering, and migration
habitat; protecting and facilitating the growth of the current wild population
that migrates from Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada to Aransas National
Wildlife Refuge in Texas; establishing two additional self-sustaining
populations of whooping cranes in the wild in North America; and maintaining
a genetically healthy captive population.
Downlisting can be achieved when: (1) there are a minimum of 40 productive
pairs in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo Population (AWBP) and 25 productive
pairs in each of two additional self-sustaining populations, or there
are 100 productive pairs in the AWBP and 30 productive pairs in a second
self-sustaining population, or there are 250 productive pairs in the
AWBP; and (2) there are at least 21 productive pairs in the captive population.
A productive pair is defined as a pair that nests regularly and has fledged
“While the whooping crane still faces a number of threats, we believe
that recovery is within our grasp,” said Sam D. Hamilton, Regional
Director for the Service’s Southeast Regional Office. “Because
of the dedication of many individuals and organizations in the U.S. and
Canada, this species has made a remarkable comeback. Our recovery plan
builds on that success. With continued partnership and this new roadmap
to recovery, future generations will have the opportunity to appreciate
this magnificent bird in the wild.”
Growing from a low of only 21 birds in 1941, the total estimated number
of whooping cranes today is 485, with 145 in captivity. They occur only
in North America, and currently exist in the wild at three locations:
the self-sustaining AWBP, an eastern U.S. population reintroduced beginning
in 2001, and a non-migratory population in central Florida. Captive populations
are maintained at nine sites. Historic population declines resulted from
habitat destruction, shooting, and displacement by human-related activities.
Current threats include limited genetics of the population, loss and
degradation of migration stopover habitat, collisions with power lines,
degradation of coastal habitat, and potential chemical spills.
With adults approaching five feet in height, the whooping crane is the
tallest, and one of the rarest birds in North America. Adult birds have
snow-white plumage with black wingtips. Cranes are known for their longevity
and life-long pair bonds. Wild birds are known to live nearly 30 years,
while captive whooping cranes live 35-40 years.
The whooping crane breeds, migrates, winters and forages in a variety of habitats,
including coastal and inland marshes, lakes, ponds, wet meadows, rivers, and
agricultural fields. In the summer and winter, whooping cranes stay within a
50-mile range. The 2,400-mile long migration corridor for the AWBP is about 150
miles wide. These birds migrate for one to three months each spring and fall
through prairie states and provinces, including Alberta, Saskatchewan, eastern
Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Low numbers, slow reproductive potential, and limited genetic diversity characterize
the wild whooping crane population. The possibility exists that a stochastic,
catastrophic event could eliminate the wild, self-sustaining AWBP. Therefore,
the principal strategy of the draft revised Whooping Crane Recovery Plan is to
augment and increase the wild population by reducing threats, and through the
establishment of two additional and discrete populations. Offspring from the
captive breeding population will be released into the wild to establish the populations
in Florida and the eastern United States. Reproduction by released birds and
their offspring will ultimately result in self-sustaining wild populations. The
continued growth of the AWBP and the two additional populations will also stem
the loss of genetic diversity.
Interested persons can obtain a copy of the revised plan on a compact disc from
the Whooping Crane Coordinator, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, P.O. Box 100,
Austwell, Texas 77950, or download it from the Internet at http://www.fws.gov/endangered (species search, whooping crane).