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Species at Risk

Whooping Crane

Grús americána

What is the Whooping Crane?

Whooping cranes are the tallest birds in North America. They stand up to 1.5 m tall, with a wingspan of 2 m or more. They are white in color, with black wingtips that can be seen in flight, and long thin black legs. Their eyes are yellow, and they have a distinctive red crown on top of their head, along with horizontal black “cheeks”. Juvenile whooping cranes are white and cinnamon in color.

Aerial view of the Whooping crane nesting area.
The Whooping cranes nest and raise their young in remote boggy reaches in Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada, far from human disturbance.
© Parks Canada / WBNPC Photo Gallery

Whooping cranes feed on insect larvae such as dragonflies, damselflies, and mayflies, as well as on aquatic creatures such as snails, small clams, minnows, and frogs. Sometimes they will feed on larger prey such as snakes, mice or small birds. Dragonfly nymphs are an important food source for the chicks. The whoopers’ winter diet (after migrating to the southern coast of Texas) includes blue crabs, clams, crayfish, small fish, acorns, and small fruit.

Where is the Whooping Crane found?

The whooping cranes nest and raise their young in remote boggy reaches of Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada, far from human disturbance. Their meter-wide nests are made mostly from bulrushes and are built in the shallow waters of spruce-encircled ponds. A clutch of two eggs is laid in the spring and the parents take turns incubating. The eggs hatch in late May or early June. In autumn, the whooping cranes migrate 3500 km south to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge along the Gulf of Mexico in southern Texas.

After feeding and resting over the winter months, the birds begin their courtship rituals in early spring. The “dance of the whooping crane”, part of the courtship ritual, can be seen in Aransas just prior to their migration back to Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada for nesting. The whoopers start leaving Aransas in early April and begin arriving in Wood Buffalo three to four weeks later.

View of a map showing the migration path of Whooping cranes.
Map of the migration path of Whooping cranes. Every year, in autumn, the Whooping cranes migrate 3500 km south to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge along the Gulf of Mexico in southern Texas.
© Parks Canada / WBNPC Photo Gallery