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.
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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