Whooping Cranes 101:
This information will help explain the basic facts about whooping cranes.
Whooping Cranes are the tallest birds in North America. Male whoopers may be over 5 feet tall when standing. They are large, mostly white birds with long necks. The top of their head and part of their face is red and they have large yellow eyes. They have long, pointed bills and thin black legs. Their wing span measures more than 6 feet and the wing tips are black. Their black wing tips can be seen only when their wings are extended such as when they fly. Their strong wings allow them to soar and fly long distances.
Male and female adult cranes look the same. Whoopers start nesting when they are about five years old. They mate for life and return to the same nesting territory each year. In a shallow marsh or pond the nest is made of bulrushes and grasses. The female usually lays two eggs and takes turns with the male sitting on them. After thirty days the eggs hatch. When the chicks are born their down is tan and they are ready to leave the nest in just two or three days. Favorite marsh meals feature insects, berries and snails. After two and a half months baby whoopers are almost as big as their parents. Their first feathers are rust colored and when all their new feathers have grown in, they are capable of flying.
Whooping cranes are migratory birds. In the fall, the last remaining flock of wild whoopers flies from their nesting grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, U.S.A. They remain at Aransas for the winter. In early spring they migrate back to Canada. To get from their winter to summer home, the whoopers travel 2,400 miles. Their journey requires about 30 days. Parents show the chicks the route, and one day the chicks will show their chicks the route and so on.
Like all travelers, the whooper family stops along their flyway for food, fun and rest. Grain fields, ponds and wildlife refuges are favorite stops. There are some serious dangers along the way. Occasionally whoopers are killed when they fly into power lines. Marking power lines with brightly colored balls is an important whooper-saving measure. And, sometimes, hunters have mistaken whooping cranes for other birds.
Currently, two whooper projects are attempting to get more flocks started. Both projects begin by rearing young whoopers in captivity and then placing them in wild habitats. One project is attempting to start a non-migratory flock in Louisiana. Another project is teaching young whooping cranes to migrate between Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin and Chassahowitzka Refuge in Florida. Some of these whoopers have begun nesting and have raised several young. Conservationists have high hopes for these two projects.
The non-migratory flock established in Florida is no longer receiving release captive reared whooper chick. The Florida flock experienced high mortality and low reproduction. Biologists continue to monitor the remaining birds in the Florida non-migratory flock to study the problems.