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Two large white birds flying low over a wetland coming in for a landing with a Service biologist in the foreground
Information icon Two endangered whooping cranes coming in for a landing. Photo by Greg Pope.

“Journey of the Whooping Crane” follows efforts to save a rare, endangered bird

In 1940, only about 20 whooping cranes were known to exist. Today, thanks to the diligence of many partners working together in the United States and Canada, there are more than 850 cranes in North America and the population continues to increase slowly and steadily.

The iconic bird is one of the success stories of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). But it remains one of the rarest animals in the world.

“Journey of the Whooping Crane,” a new one-hour nature documentary, tells that story with remarkable footage and interviews. Made by filmmakers Rhett Turner and Greg Pope over a two-year period, it debuts at 8 p.m. December 5 on PBS’s Georgia Public Broadcasting. PBS affiliates in South Carolina, Louisiana and Texas have agreed to air the film but have not yet scheduled it; check local listings.

Whooping cranes live only in a few spots in North America. They are the continent’s tallest bird, reaching five feet tall, with a wingspan of more than seven feet. They can live up to 30 years in the wild. The name comes from the loud vocalization given repeatedly by the birds.

Historically, population declines were caused by shooting and destruction of nesting habitat in the prairies from agricultural development. The reasons for listing the species include low population numbers and a hazardous 4,000 km migration route.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the birds as endangered in 1967, and since then a coalition of government agencies, non-governmental organizations and private interests have worked to nurture the remaining birds in the wild and reintroduce whooping cranes into portions of their former range via captive breeding efforts. Most of the birds migrate more than 2,500 miles between Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas.

The filmmakers interviewed Wade Harrell, the Service’s U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator, and filmed in St. Marks, Wheeler, Aransas, Nededah and Horicon national wildlife refuges.


Phil Kloer, Public affairs specialist, (404) 679-7299

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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