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Species at Risk

Whooping Crane

Grús americána

Why protect the Whooping Crane?

Whooping cranes were on the verge of extinction in the early 1940's. The loss of whooping cranes as a species would not only have been very sad, but would also have reduced the biodiversity of wildlife in North America. While international recovery efforts have been successful in increasing the number of whooping cranes, these beautiful and unique birds remain endangered, requiring ongoing protection to survive.

International efforts to increase the whooping crane population have been ongoing for many years. These efforts include :

  • Ongoing protection of nesting and wintering habitats.
  • Establishment of a captive breeding program (To start this program, 225 eggs were collected from Wood Buffalo National Park between 1967 and 1996. Egg collection from the Wood Buffalo flock ceased in 1996).
  • Annual surveys and monitoring of nests and chick productivity in Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada.
  • Research on the ecology of the birds’ existing nesting habitat to help with the selection of new reintroduction sites.
  • Establishment of a non-migratory flock in Florida.
  • Reintroduction of a second migratory flock (Wisconsin-Florida) using captive-raised birds. This process included teaching the captive-raised birds to migrate using ultralights.

While whooping crane populations continue to increase under this program, the whooping cranes are still vulnerable, especially while migrating. Potential threats during migration include hunters (the whoopers are sometimes mistaken for other bird species such as sandhill cranes) and power lines. At their wintering grounds in Aransas, there is a risk of coastal water pollution from commercial marine traffic.

What is Parks Canada doing to protect the Whooping Crane?

Whooping crane in Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada.
The meter-wide nests of Whooping cranes are made mostly from bulrushes and are built in shallow waters of spruce-encircled ponds.
© Parks Canada / WBNPC Photo Gallery

Wood Buffalo National Park protects the nesting grounds of the last remaining wild migratory flock of whooping cranes. The whooping crane nesting area is classified as Zone 1 Special Preservation under the Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada Management Plan. Public access is prohibited due to the extreme sensitivity of the birds while they are nesting and raising their young.

Park resource conservation staff assist the Canadian Wildlife Service with ecological monitoring, research, and annual nesting surveys. The park also promotes the whooping crane in public education programs and nonpersonal media such as publications and interpretive signs. The Wetlands Interpretive Trail in the park features information about the whooping cranes and species at risk.

The presence of the whooping cranes in Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada is very special, and is one reason why the park is a World Heritage Site. The whooping crane nesting area has also been designated by the Ramsar Convention as a Ramsar site, or Wetland of International Significance.