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Resurgence of the whooping crane

From a low of just 14 migratory birds, the whooping crane is on the rise
  • Nov 30, 2013
  • 343 words
  • 2 minutes
Although its numbers were perilously low 70 year ago, the whooping crane has bounced back Expand Image

Grus americana
SARA status: Endangered
Weight: 6 to 7 kg
Wingspan: 2 m or more
Height: 1.5 m
Offspring: 2 eggs per year, usually 1 chick survives
Lifespan: 22 to 30 years

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Map: Chris Brackley/Canadian Geographic. Whooping Crane data credit: current and historical range data based on COSEWIC assessment and status report on the whooping crane (Grus Americana) in Canada. COSEWIC, 2010.

Talk about an endangered species story to whoop about. The whooping crane once nested throughout the central and western part of the continent, but as people settled the Prairies in the early 1900s, they drained the marshes — “whooper” habitat — for their crops. In 1942, just 15 of the only migratory population remained, though they continued to winter in Texas and breed in a thenunknown location. By 1950, the world’s only other whooping crane, from a non-migratory Louisiana population, was taken into captivity.

Fortunately the tough times were about to change. Wood Buffalo National Park, the remaining flock’s breeding area, was founded in 1922, and their wintering grounds on the Gulf Coast of Texas were protected in 1937. Since 1994, whooping cranes have been protected in Canada under the Migratory Birds Convention Act.

Conservationists have boosted the whooping crane’s numbers by breeding the endangered species in captivity, but whoopers reared by humans often lack the skills necessary to survive in the wild. That’s where some conservationists have been creative. Canadian-born ornithologist George Archibald became a minor celebrity when he performed the whooping crane courtship dance to form a pair-bond with one human-imprinted bird. And Operation Migration, based in Ontario, uses ultralight aircraft to guide the cranes to new wintering grounds.

With the world’s whooping crane population now at 498 birds, those efforts have clearly paid off. Though the species remains endangered, and the concentration of whooping cranes makes them susceptible to environmental and natural disasters, many conservationists consider the whooping crane the quintessential recovery story.

Learn more about the whooping crane:
Return to the wild

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