Tag Archives: Whooping Crane

Whooping Cranes: 5 Fascinating Facts

The Whooping Crane is a truly incredible bird. As a species that has had a rocky conservation history, they are still very rare and are listed as federally endangered. While you may have heard some of the basics about these regal looking cranes, there is even more intrigue surrounding their life and conservation history than meets the eye. With an interesting story behind their resurgence, and some remarkable things to learn about them, here are five fascinating facts about Whooping Cranes.

They are extremely large

Whooping Cranes are absolutely massive birds. In fact they are the tallest bird species in North America, coming in at around five feet tall. Their height isn’t the only impressive metric they boast though. This species also has a remarkable large wingspan of over seven feet. Not only are they large in stature, but also in weight, as they are quite hefty for a bird, weighing upwards of 19 lb. If a Whooping Crane is in the vicinity, they are hard to miss, simply due to their immense size.

They almost went extinct

Whooping Cranes were in a dire place as a species for a long time. In 1941, there were only 21 known Whooping Cranes left in the world. Since then, conservationists have worked hard to help the Whooping Crane get back to a stable place. Both breeding programs and habitat conservation have played a major role in aiding in the recovery of this species. The breeding programs for Whooping Cranes are very well documented, and include hand feeding young Whooping Cranes with puppets to make sure they didn’t imprint on people. Currently there are around 600 Whooping Cranes in the world with some of that 600 living in captivity.

They have separate populations

Reintroduction efforts led to a total of four wild Whooping Crane Populations being established. All of the cranes in the reintroduced populations descended from a migratory population in Texas that flies to Canada to nest. This Texas to Canada migratory population is still around today and still makes it’s annual trip north of the border. Another migratory population summers in Florida and migrates to Wisconsin each spring for the breeding season. Two other non-migratory populations live year round in Florida and Louisiana. All four of these populations don’t often spread out to new areas, and the two migratory populations go back to the same places each year, making them a reliable sight in certain locations.

Airplanes once helped them migrate

One of the more eclectic stories about the Whooping Crane reintroduction effort is how the birds were taught to migrate. Ultra light aircrafts were used to lead the birds in the Florida migratory population to their summer nesting sites (or at least where conservationists were hoping they would nest). While this program was certainly an interesting idea, a decision was made to discontinue the practice in 2016 due to a lack of evidence indicating that it actually helped the Florida to Wisconsin Whooping Crane population nest successfully.

They mate for life

Whooping Cranes begin to search for a mate at around 2 or 3 years of age. Once they find a partner they will mate for life, and typically go back to the same nesting and wintering territories year after year. Often times, these birds can be spotted foraging and associating in pairs in both summer and winter. While Whooping Cranes do stay with the same partner for the duration of their life, they will pair off with a different individual in the event that their original mate passes away.

Check out the video version of this post on the Badgerland Birding YouTube channel


The Whooping Crane is a beautiful and majestic species that was once almost lost forever. With the help of massive conservation efforts, they are now in a much better place than they used to be. Hopefully these special birds will continue to grow in numbers so that one day they can again be completely self sustaining, and even get removed from the endangered species list.

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Top 5 birds to find in Wisconsin

Each state in the US has its own unique set of habitats and animals that live within their borders. Among these animals are many bird species that only live in particular regions of the country and can sometimes not be easily found anywhere else in the world. One state that harbors a surprising array of bird species is Wisconsin. With a great lake to the east, boreal forest to the north, and migratory flyways overhead, Wisconsin is home to some rare species that can only be seen in a handful of places around the country. While there are plenty of birds to see in Wisconsin, there are 5 that stand out as signature species of the state that are extremely hard to find in most other regions of the United States. Here are the top five birds to find in the Wisconsin

5. Greater Prairie Chicken

Greater-prairie Chicken
Greater-prairie Chicken

At number five on our list is a species that can usually only be found on the Great Plains, the Greater Prairie Chicken. These stout, plump looking birds reside in grasslands and prairies where they feed on seeds, grains, fruits, and insects. Greater prairie chickens are listed as vulnerable after experiencing a massive decline in their population between 1966 and 2015. The reason this species is at number five on a list of birds to find in Wisconsin is that the dairy state is one of the only place to find greater prairie chickens east of the Mississippi river as a breeding population lives in the middle of the state. The most reliable place to see them is at the Buena Vista Grasslands where a management area is set aside for these birds. The easiest time to locate Greater Prairie Chickens is in winter when they can be found roosting in trees in the early morning or foraging in fields as they stand out better against the snow. The other time of year they can be found is during spring when they lek and males put on displays for females. The University of Wisconsin Stevens point allows people to rent blinds during this time to get a close up view of the Prairie Chickens lekking.

4. Snowy Owl

Badgerland Birding searches for Snowy Owls along Lake Michigan

Coming in at number four is a majestic bird species extremely recognizable to the general public, the Snowy Owl. Although they are thought of as a bird exclusive to the high arctic, some of them migrate south into the northern United States in winter, allowing people in many of the states bordering Canada a chance to see them on an annual basis. Some years, few snowy owls can be found in the US while other years many of them end up crossing the Canada border and occasionally even turn up as far south as the Carolinas. Even though there are a handful of states to find Snowy Owls in, they typically show up in relatively good numbers in Wisconsin and in places accessible to birders. Some spots to look for them are the rocks along the Lake Michigan coastline and in open farm fields, both of which can be found in copious amounts in Wisconsin.

3. Connecticut Warbler

Badgerland Birding searches for an elusive Connecticut Warbler

The first warbler on the list is a species that breeds in the most northern recesses of the state, the Connecticut Warbler. Connecticut Warblers are skulky, ground foraging, migratory birds with a yellow underside, a gray head, and a white eye ring. These secretive birds are notoriously difficult to find and are normally only seen or heard during migration. Speaking of migration, the Connecticut Warbler’s path from its wintering areas in South America through Florida, and then spreading out over the Great Lakes states and into Canada. The Connecticut warbler finds itself at number 3 on our list for a variety of reasons. First, the species as a whole has declined significantly since 1966 making it harder to find in general. Additionally, the range of this uncommon species is rather small compared to that of most warblers. Lastly, the majority of Connecticut warblers breed in Canada with the only states in the US harboring Connecticut Warblers during the breeding season being Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

2. Kirtland’s Warbler

Kirtland’s Warbler

Landing at number 2 in our countdown is the once federally endangered Kirtland’s Warbler. Identified by their gray backs with black streaks, yellow throat and underside, and white eye crescents, this species (which some consider to be the holy grail of Eastern United States warblers) is still a very rare sight in most parts of the country. While they are off the endangered list, there are still only about 4,800 individuals in the global breeding population. One of the reason’s the Kirtland’s Warbler is so rare, is because they are so picky about the habitat they breed in. This species only nests in Jack Pines generally between 5 and 15 feet tall. Any shorter or taller and they find the habitat to be unsuitable. Kirtland’s Warblers do migrate, spending most of the winter in the Bahamas, and can be seen occasionally along their migratory route, but the best place to see them is in their summer breeding grounds. The selectiveness of the Kirtland’s Warbler means there are only a few areas where they can be reliably found including some parts of Southern Canada, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

1. Whooping Crane

Check this video out to learn more about Whooping Cranes

The top bird in our contdown is one that’s hard to miss if it’s around: the whooping crane. This massive bird has a wing span of 229 cm and is certainly one of the largest bird species in North America. They can be identified by their all white coloration with black wing tips and red on their head and face. What makes the Whooping Crane such a coveted bird to find is the fact that there are so few of them in the wild. Back in 1941, there were only an estimated 21 Whooping cranes in existence. Fast forward to now and there are around 600 of them between the wild populations and those kept in captivity. While there are certainly more of them around today, and the species has been trending in a slightly better direction, they are still not all that easy to locate. In fact, there are 4 populations of Whooping Cranes in the United States. One that lives in Texas and migrates to Canada, one that lives in Louisiana year round, one that lives in Florida year round, and one that migrates from Florida to Wisconsin. Considering the conservation status of the Whooping Crane and their overall rarity in the world, makes them an extremely sought after bird to find not only in the state, but throughout the continent. This fact elevates the Whooping Crane to the top of the list of the five best birds to find in Wisconsin

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Epic day of Birding in early April

Early April is the time of year when some of the most interesting migrants start their journey north to their breeding grounds. Many of these birds make stops in Wisconsin along with some that don’t belong here at all. Such is the case of the Golden-crowned Sparrow that showed up at a residence in Calumet County about a week ago.

Initially, the hour and a half drive, combined with nice weather made me disinterested in chasing it since I wanted to enjoy the temperatures outside. However, after the state parks closed ,and with a lot of time on my hands due to COVID lockdown, I decided to make the trip along with Derek.

Golden-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow

When we arrived at the home the sparrow had been seen at, other birders were just leaving. The bird had been visiting on and off, seemingly showing up a few times per hour. The homeowners were nice enough to let us come up their driveway and wait for the bird to appear. While we waited, we saw several species flying through the yard and foraging including Dark-eyed Juncos, Song Sparrows, Hairy, Woodpeckers, Tree Swallows, Eastern Phoebes, Chipping Sparrows, and Red-winged Blackbirds. After ten minutes or so we noticed a larger sparrow in the thickets near the back of the yard. Even with just quick glimpses we could tell that it was in fact the Golden-crowned Sparrow. Just as quickly as it appeared it was out of sight. Minutes later, it reappeared near the bird feeder just 15 feet from where we were waiting. It only stayed for about 30 seconds before vanishing. Since the Golden-crowned Sparrow is such a rare visitor to our state, we stayed longer, hoping to get one more look. Eventfully, it popped up again and this time stayed for a number of minutes, giving us incredible views.

After getting our lifer Golden-crowned Sparrow, we decided to head to Horicon Marsh in search of some other rare birds. We started on Ledge Road where a Surf Scoter had been seen over the past few days. We quickly found the beautiful breeding plumage bird very close to the road. Surf Scoters can be found every year in Wisconsin, but usually in much larger bodies of water and most typically in the great lakes.

Surf Scoter
Surf Scoter

After viewing the Scoter we followed a hot tip on some Whooping Cranes near the auto tour board walk. I had only ever seen one Whooping Crane in my life and Derek had never seen one, so we were excited about the prospect of finding them. When we got to the boardwalk, a Yellow-rumped Warbler was greeted us. Further out, Blue-winged Teals and Gadwalls floated around in the marsh water. Then, I noticed what looked like a big, white blob to the south. When I saw the white blob put it’s long, elegant head and neck up, I knew immediately what it was. I alerted Derek and we enjoyed some excellent looks at these endangered birds.

Whooping Cranes
Whooping Cranes

As we were looking at the cranes, we got another tip that there was a Eurasian Wigeon seen near the visitor center. We rushed there next as the sky began to darken. When we arrived, there were tons of people there seemingly walking around aimlessly, just wanting to have something to do. While keeping our distance from them, we scoured the water in hopes of finding our third rare species of the day. We located a Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Green-winged Teal, pair of Ospreys, Great Blue Heron, and first of year Purple Martin. Sadly, the Eurasian Wigeon was nowhere to be seen. We did however find a hybrid Snow Goose/Canada Goose on our way out which was interesting.

Although we were a little bummed about missing the Eurasian Wigeon, we couldn’t be too upset considering we had an excellent birding day with some great weather while we were out.