Hunters: Know Your Cranes


9/19/2011 2:13:00 PM

What’s a whooping crane worth?

by Neil Case

Two men in Indiana shot and killed a whooping crane and were caught. The whooping crane is an endangered species. As such, it is protected under the Endangered Species Act, a federal law. These men were taken to federal court, found guilty and fined. One dollar each! They were also ordered to pay legal fees and court costs of $550.

A man in Texas shot and killed a whooping crane and was caught and taken to federal court. He was fined $120,000 and sent to jail for six months. Seven men in Kansas, a hunting party, shot and killed two whooping cranes. They were fined a total of $23,586 and given two years probation each.

So is a whooping crane worth one dollar or is it worth $10,000 or more? Someone who kills a bird or other animal officially listed under the Endangered Species Act may be fined up to $100,000 and sentenced to a year in jail. But the whooping crane killed in Indiana was a bird of a “nonessential experimental population.”

These birds are raised at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the International Crane Foundation. Subsequently they’re taken to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin, taught to follow ultralite aircraft as they learn to fly and led by ultralites to Florida in the fall. It’s an attempt to establish an eastern population of whooping cranes. Raised in captivity, led by ultralite aircraft to a winter grounds in Florida, these birds return on their own to Wisconsin in spring and eventually, it is hoped, they will mate, nest and raise young, then adults and young will migrate to Florida for the winter.

Whooping cranes and other endangered species are protected by law because they are rare.

In addition to being few in number, whooping cranes are striking birds, over four feet tall with a long neck and legs, white with red on the forehead and up onto the top of the head. Once they nested from northern Canada into the northern plains states and in some of the Gulf Coast states. The northern birds migrated south in the fall and all of them wintered along the Gulf Coast.

Today, naturally occurring wild whoopers nest in Wood Buffalo National Park, northwest Canada and winter along the coast of Texas in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Every winter, thousands of people visit the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge hoping to see a whopping crane.

Capitalizing on the number of people who visit Texas to see whooping cranes in winter, the nearby town of Port Aransas has a Whooping Crane Festival every winter. People who attend can hear lectures about whooping cranes, see videos and take a boat ride into the waters of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge where they are almost certain to see whooping cranes and usually one or more of their families, including a pair of adults and an immature bird.

A federal judge in Indiana assigned a value of one dollar to a whooping crane. A federal judge in Texas assigned a value of $10,000 and a judge in Kansas assigned an even higher value. Motel owners, restaurant owners, and souvenir shop owners in Port Aransas, Texas undoubtedly agree with the higher assessments since their businesses flourish in winter when visitors come to the area to see whooping cranes. There are other people, I’m sure, who wouldn’t care if the whooping crane became extinct.

So what is a whooping crane worth? Carrying the question further, what are the swallows and warblers feeding on insects worth, the sparrows and finches eating and scattering seeds, vultures providing roadside sanitation, hummingbirds pollinating flowers, hawks preying on mice and other small animals, robins eating wild cherries and passing the seeds, blue jays burying acorns? Aside form such practical considerations, what’s it worth just to be able to see a whooping crane or any other bird?



The Whooping Crane Conservations Association    attempts to assist in the education of hunters to help prevent the killing of endangered species such as the whooping crane. We are attaching an “identification” aide prepared by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries department to further assist hunters in identification. The Louisiana article includes photos of large birds similar to whooping cranes. Some are illegal to hunt while others are legal. Hunters need to know the difference. If you are a hunter and are not certain of the identification of the bird you are aiming at, please don’t shoot. Better safe than sorry. Click on the following link:


For even more identification help, go to the Whooping Crane Conservation Association web site at