The Whooping Crane, affectionately called a "whooper"

The Whooping Crane, affectionately called a "whooper" by some, holds the record for being the tallest bird (5 feet high) in North America. At one time, this very large bird was nearly an extinct bird; it is now making a strong comeback and is considered an endangered bird. As of December, 2004, it was reported there are 468 of these Cranes surviving between the ones in the wild and those in captivity.

This majestic bird was named for the "whooping" cries it makes. It is assumed that the sounds are related to territorial and dominance behaviors. These cranes can live 25 to 30 years in the wild.

Adult males and females look essentially the same, with the male being slightly larger in size. Males weigh in around 17 pounds, while the female is generally around 14 pounds. Both have a white body with white tufted feathers over the rump, a long neck, long, dark legs, and a red forehead and cheek. Younger, immature cranes have a white body with scattered brown feathers and a pale brown head and neck in comparison.

Their wingspan is just as impressive as their height at around 7.5 feet. When an adult Crane flies, black tips can be seen on its wings. When resting and when in flight, they hold their neck straight, rather than tucking it in as some birds do.

Another interesting fact about the Whooping Crane is that its windpipe (trachea) coils nearly 9 inches into its breast bone while the bird "whoops", enabling the sound to be louder and varied in pitch.

Whooping cranes are wading birds and feed mostly on small aquatic life such as frogs, crayfish and crabs. Their long, dark bill is very successful at extracting crab meat. When they are preparing for migration, they will focus on eating blue crabs. This enables them to build up energy reserves for nesting season.

Whooping Cranes will migrate, in staggered groups of 2 or 3, from Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas to spend the winter. This group of whoppers is the only naturally occurring flock of wild Whooping Cranes that migrate.

There is a new eastern migratory flock that was introduced in the year 2001. The eastern group is part of a separate and ongoing reintroduction effort. This non-migratory group winters in Florida at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.

These Cranes will return to Canada, their summer home, sometime in early May to prepare for nesting. Adults are usually successful at hatching their first chicks at the age of 4 or 5 years old. Both parents incubate the two eggs for 30 days in a nest situated on small islands of cattails, bulrushes and grassy wetland plants.

It takes the entire summer for the chicks to grow and learn to fly and be strong enough to endure the migration when fall arrives. Whooping Cranes live in family groups in both summer and winter (territorial tendency). Cranes who are newly paired together will often locate their first territory near the one their parents inhabited.

Although this amazing bird is safe from immediate extinction, there are still threats to its survival. Threats include: limited habitat, human beings, collision with power lines or being shot (mistaken for Sand hill Cranes, a game species).

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