Whooping Crane

Grus americana
Whooping Crane

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Whooping Crane Sightings




Species History


The Whooping Crane is one of the rarest North American birds. It is a long-legged, wading bird that is related to Rails, a group of small, secretive, marsh birds. Adult birds are mostly white, with black extending the length of the outer wing feathers below. The crown is dark red, and a black "moustache" extends from the bill to the lower face. The overall shape of the bird reminds one of a heron or egret, but more robust.

Never an abundant species, the total population had dwindled, due to hunting pressures and habitat loss, to a low of 16 birds in 1941.  During that same period, there were two main populations: a migratory flock in central North America, and a non-migratory flock in Louisiana.  The Louisiana flock quickly died out, leaving only the migratory population, which breeds in Canada and winters on the coast of Texas.

Current Whooping Crane Population (as of February 2020):

Wood-Buffalo/Aransas Flock504
Wisconsin/Florida Migratory85
Florida Non-migratory9
Louisiana Non-migratory     69
Captive Birds159

Current Status 

Conservation of Whooping Cranes has involved a strong, international effort between the United States and Canada, as well as assistance from various other federal, state, and non-profit organizations.  These measures have included habitat protection, listing of the species as Endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, and maintaining a captive population of the birds from which to supplement breeding efforts and to supply new introductions into the wild.  

The current world population is made up of the following components:


 Wood Buffalo/Aransas Flock

The historic, main wild population, this group breeds in Wood Buffalo National Park in northwestern Canada.  The birds migrate through the Great Plains to winter on the Texas coast, in and near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.  The birds are frequently, but irregularly, seen during migration, most commonly in small groups (some can range as high as 15-20 birds), and can be seen in the marshes of the coastal areas in Texas from November through April.  The breeding grounds in Canada consist of scattered marshes, and are difficult for people to access.  


Wisconsin/Florida Migratory Eastern Flock


Beginning in 2001, human-raised Whooping Crane young have been released in the wild in Wisconsin and allowed to follow ultra-light aircraft to wintering grounds in Florida, mirroring the movements of their Sandhill Crane cousins in the same areas.  To date, there are just under 100 Whooping Cranes in this population, and some nesting occurs annually.  A few Whooping Cranes have been known to remain in either Wisconsin or Michigan during the summer.

Florida Non-migratory Flock

From 1993 to 2004, biologists released captive-raised, non-migratory whooping cranes into Osceola, Lake and Polk counties in Central Florida. Survival and reproduction problems have caused the reintroductions to be discontinued. Biologists will continue to study the remaining birds. 
Captive Birds


Whooping Cranes are kept in captivity at several locations in the U.S. and Canada. Some captive groups supply eggs and hatchlings for reintroduction programs. Birds are currently at the following facilities: International Crane Foundation, Baraboo, WI; Devonian Wildlife Conservation Center, Calgary, AB; Species Survival Center, LA; Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park, FL; and zoos at San Antonio, Calgary, Tampa, Jacksonville (FL), Milwaukee Co., WI, and New Orleans.  A large program of breeding production, formerly at Pautuxent in Maryland, was discontinued and birds sent to other facilities.


Louisiana Non-migratory Flock


In early 2011, a new flock was introduced into southwestern Louisiana with the release of 10 juveniles. This project involves further releases into the wild, and as of 2020 has included some nesting in the wild.




1. Look for WHITE - whooping cranes are mostly white.
2. Look for BLACK on wings - only whooping cranes, pelicans, and snow geese are white with black wings. 
3. Look for long neck AND legs.
4. Large clusters of feathers at the rear of bird, often referred to as a "bustle". This makes them look big-bodied, like an ostrich (sandhill cranes also share this trait). 

Note: Juvenile Whooping Cranes, observed each year in small numbers, are rust-colored and nearly the same size as their parents. 

 Whooping Crane ID 1Whooping Crane ID 2  

Facts About Whooping Crane


Adults:  just under 5 feet tall

Wingspan:  7 feet


Varied, but includes grain, crustaceans, fruit, frogs, insects, crabs, clams, and acorns.

Nearest relatives

Sandhill Cranes and Rails