Scientific name: Grus americana
IUCN designation: Endangered
The Whooping Crane has recovered from the brink of extinction in the early 1940’s with only 15 individuals remaining to just over 500 in the wild in 2019. The AMASS project features this North American species that continues to be a national symbol for conservation and international cooperation.
Capable of reaching a height of 1.5 m (5 ft) and having a wingspan of 2.1 m (7 ft), the Whooping Crane is North America’s tallest bird2! It can be easily identified by its white plumage, long neck, red crown, black wingtips and long black legs which trail behind in flight3.
There are three active populations of the Whooping Crane6. The only naturally occurring, self-sustaining population breeds exclusively in the wetlands of Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) which sits on the border of Alberta and the Northwest Territories4. This flock completes a long autumnal migration of 4000 km (2485 mi) over a period of fifty days across the Great Plains of North America to its wintering grounds at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Texas, USA5.
Hunting and habitat loss due to cropland conversion decimated the Whooping Crane population in the 19th and first half of the 20th century6.
Thanks to several conservation efforts including establishing federal legislation to protect and recover endangered species (e.g. the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Species at Risk Act), captive breeding and release programs, reintroducing flocks etc. the Whooping Crane population has resurged.
In December 2018, during the annual winter survey at Aransas NWR, 505 Whooping Cranes were reported; a historic high for the WNBP/Aransas NWR flock7.
Now the recovery and survival of the endangered Whooping Crane depends highly on conserving the integrity of the wetland habitats found at its breeding, migratory stopover and overwintering sites which the AMASS project highlights.