Grus americana
(Whooping Crane)


Order: Gruiformes
Order Description: Rails, Coots, Cranes
Family: Gruidae
Family Description: Cranes

Physical Description:
50-52" (125-131 cm). The tallest North American bird; very rare. White with black wing tips. Long straight neck topped by a red face caused by an exposed patch of red skin on crownClick word for definition and along jaw. Feet and legs dark. Immatures are washed with rust color, especially about the head.

Similar Species- American White Pelican, Snow Goose, Sandhill Crane

Song:
Gives a musical, trumpet-like ker-loo, ker-loo.

Distribution:
Formerly found over much of central and eastern North America; present range is much reduced. Breeds in south-central MacKenzie River District and adjacent northern Alberta. Winters on Gulf Coast of Texas. Introduced in Idaho in Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge; Idaho population winters in central New Mexico in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

Habitat:
Found in freshwater marshes and wet prairies. During migration and in winter, also found in grain and stubble fields, and on shallow lakes. Winters on salt flats and marshes.

Diet:
During summer, feeds on insects, crustaceans, and berries. Winter diet includes grains, acorns, wolfberry fruit, insects, crustaceans, mollusks, fishes, amphibians, and reptiles. One study found radio-marked migrants fed primarily in variety of croplands.

Ecology:
Nests in dense, emergent vegetation in freshwater marshes, wet prairies, and along lake margins. Constructs mound nest of marsh vegetation; nest rises 20-48 cm above water level. Population has exhibited 10-yr periodicity. Mated pairs and families establish and defend winter territories on coastal marshes in Texas. Breeding territories are very large, averaging 770 ha. Idaho population was re-established through translocation (cross-fostered eggs) to sandhill cranes at Gray's Lake. High mortality (especially juveniles) due to shootings, collisions, and bad weather. No successful breeding occurred in experimental population in Idaho.

Reproduction:
Breeding begins in early May. Pair mates for life. Both sexes, in turn, incubateClick word for definition 2 eggs (sometimes 1-3), for 33-34 days. Nestlings are precocialClick word for definition, are tended by both adults, fledge when no less than 10 wk old, remain with parents until following year (dissociate after arrival on breeding grounds), and reach sexual maturity at 4-6 yr.

Conservation:
Element Code: ABNMK01030
U.S. ESA Status: LEXN
Status: Protected nongame species
Global Rank: G1
State Rank: SE
National Rank: N1N

Important State References:
Carlson, G.E. and C.H. Trost. 1992. Sex determination of the whooping crane by analysis of vocalizations. Condor 94:532-536.


Photo by Marcus Martin,© 1999
Design by Ean Harker©1999, 2000.
Written by Jason Karl, 2000.