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Whooping Crane

Grus americana; one of the rarest birds in North America

whooping crane


The tallest bird in North America, the whooping crane stands about 5 feet tall and has a wingspan of 7.5 feet. It is remarkably light for its size, however, weighing only about 15 pounds.

An adult whooping crane is white with a red crown and a long, dark, pointed bill. Immature whooping cranes are cinnamon brown. In flight, a whooping crane can be distinguished from other large white birds by its long neck extended forward and legs that trail equally straight behind.

Distribution and Habitat

The only truly wild flock of whooping cranes winters in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas and breeds in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada. This flock currently consists of about 300 birds.

A small flock of whooping cranes was introduced into western Florida in the early 1990's, but none of the birds ever learned to migrate. Now numbering about 20 birds, this flock makes it year-round home near Kissimmee.

Another small flock of about 70 birds has been "trained" to follow an ultralight aircraft on its migratory journeys between Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida and the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.

All three populations of whooping cranes like wetlands, marshes, mudflats, wet prairies, and fields.


Whooping cranes feed on a variety of plants, seeds, and grains, as well as crustaceans, small fish, frogs, snakes, and insects.


In early spring, while still on the wintering grounds, pairs of whooping cranes whoop (hence its name) and dance as part of courtship. Dancing intensifies until the migrants depart, usually in mid-March. (The non-migratory population find mates and breeds in the same general location.) Breeding pairs stay together for life, but a new mate will be accepted if one dies.

Whoopers usually build a nest in marshes or shallow ponds, in about 10 inches of water and most often in relatively dense stands of bulrush. Built by both sexes, the nest is a mound of vegetation with a shallow depression on top for the eggs.

A pair usually has two eggs, which are light brown with variable brown blotches. They are incubated by both parents for 29-33 days. Both eggs generally hatch, but if both eggs are left in the nest, usually only one chick survives. Both parents take care of the young crane as it develops. The juvenile crane becomes pretty independent early on, but still receives food from its parents. It will stay with its parents throughout the first year, including the flight back to the wintering grounds.

Newly paired cranes often locate their first territory near that of their parents.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Aves
order Gruiformes
family Gruidae
genus & species Grus americana


National Wildlife Federation
Operation Migration

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The Robinson Library >> Order Gruiformes

This page was last updated on August 31, 2018.