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Whooping Crane

Protected Habitat and Captive Rearing


No bird better symbolizes national and international conservation efforts than the Whooping Crane. Probably never common, the species suffered from sport hunting and loss of prairie marsh habitat. Its population reached its lowest level in the 1940s, when only 16 wild individuals returned to their traditional wintering area on the Texas coast.

Intensive conservation efforts have raised the Whooping Crane's numbers to more secure levels. These include protection of breeding, migration, and wintering areas, as well as captive-rearing and release programs.

This map shows the distribution of wild and introduced Whooping Crane populations. Green areas denote breeding grounds of wild populations, blue areas are wintering grounds, and dark lines enclose migration corridors between the two.

As of 2001, the only self-sustaining wild population was nesting in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada's Northwest Territories, and wintering at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast.

During the 1990s a nonmigratory Whooping Crane flock was established in the Kissimmee Prairie, Florida (red area on the map) using birds from captive rearing programs at the International Crane Foundation, the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and the Calgary Zoo. Numbering 91 individuals by February 2000, some of these birds have started to breed, although their survival is not without problems.

After five years of planning, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership launched a bold effort in October 2001 to introduce a migratory Whooping Crane flock to Florida. Eight Whooping Crane juveniles were trained to follow an ultralight aircraft, making their southward journey from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin to Florida's Chassahowitska National Wildlife Refuge (red line on the map). Biologists hoped that the young cranes would make the return journey northward in spring alone. In April 2002 their dream came true—five of the young cranes migrated north successfully. Similar ambitious plans exist for migratory populations in the prairie provinces of Canada.

Thanks to these and other conservation efforts, the Whooping Crane's once-tenuous future seems more assured.