Whooping Crane

Recovering from a low of only 21 birds in the wild in the 1940s to around 599 birds today, the Whooping Crane's recovery is one of conservation's most inspiring success stories.

Scientific Name: Grus americana
Height: 5 ft; Wingspan: 7-8 ft
Field Marks: Adults - red patch on forehead, black mustache and legs, black wing tips visible in flight; juveniles - cinnamon-brown feathers
Population: ~ 599 (captive and wild)

View table of historic Whooping Crane numbers

Download FREE Whooping Crane images

Status: Endangered, but population increasing

Range: Two distinct migratory populations summer in northwestern Canada and central Wisconsin and winter along the Gulf Coast of Texas and the southeastern United States, respectively. Small, non-migratory populations live in central Florida and coastal Louisiana.

MapView Range Map

Diet: Plant tubers, blue crabs, small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, insects

Vocalizations: Loud, rattling kar-r-r-o-o-o. Listen to Whooping Crane calls:

Contact Call A soft, purring call expressing reassurance and location. Guard A sharp, single call expressing alarm. Unison A duet performed by a pair, to strengthen their bond and protect their territory.

Threats: Loss or deterioration of critical wetland habitat (including reduced fresh water at wintering grounds in Texas), low genetic diversity, power line collisions, predation, disturbance at nest sites and illegal shooting.

What Can You Do? Make a special gift to support Whooping Crane conservation. Learn more about ICF's "Five Steps to Save Whooping Cranes" and follow our Whooping Crane Updates on our website and on Facebook.

ICF in Action

With creativity and dedication, ICF is bringing the Whooping Crane back from the brink of extinction.

George and Tex

The story of George and Tex highlights the dedication of a man to save a species - and the unforgettable story of a crane who thought she was a human. In an effort to breed the genetically valuable Whooping Crane, ICF Co-founder Dr. George Archibald lived and danced with this rare crane to encourage her to lay eggs. In time, Tex produced a chick, who has produced several generations of Whooping Cranes at ICF. Preview George & Tex, on exhibit at ICF's headquarters through May 2012 and view the exhibit video.

Photo by Joel Sartore www.joelsartore.comCostume Rearing

In the 1980s ICF researchers began experimenting with the costume-rearing of cranes. Today researchers caring for young Whooping Cranes at ICF wear full-length crane costumes to hide the human form and use crane hand puppets to feed and interact with the chicks. We use this costume-rearing technique to make sure the chicks imprint on Whooping Cranes - the costume and hand puppet, above, mimic the colors and shape of an adult crane - and will be prepared for life in the wild (photo by Joel Sartore/www.joelsartore.com). Learn more about raising Whooping Cranes and view our series of videos on ICF's breeding and reintroduction program.

Crane Chick CamJoin us for our monthly Chick Chats with ICF’s aviculture staff. Click here to request an email reminder for our upcoming chats or replay any of our past chats.

Direct Autumn Release

Since 2005 ICF has co-led the Direct Autumn Release (DAR) program in central Wisconsin. DAR Whooping Crane chicks are costume-reared at ICF to ensure that they imprint properly. In the fall, the young Whooping Cranes are released in small groups near adult cranes. The young cranes learn their migration route by following these older cranes south in the fall. Learn more about reintroducing Whooping Cranes into the wild.


Photo by Dav & Liz SmithGuadalupe River Basin

ICF works with diverse partners in the Guadalupe River basin in Texas, wintering area for the western Whooping Crane population, to protect the fragile gulf ecosystem, its precious wildlife, and the vital coastal economy. Our research includes new studies of Whooping Cranes and the ecology of blue crabs to improve our management of cranes and their habitats during droughts and other crisis periods, while outreach focuses on water users throughout the Guadalupe basin. We are also involved in a new health study of Whooping Cranes in Texas, as well as chicks captured and banded on the population’s breeding grounds in western Canada. Learn more about ICF's work in the Guadalupe River basin.


Learn more about Whooping Cranes:

Johnsgard PA. 1983. Cranes of the world. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Meine CD, Archibald GW. 1996. The cranes: status survey and conservation action plan. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.

International Crane Foundation

Fun Fact
The Whooping Crane is the tallest flying North American bird.