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Whooping Crane

Grus americana

Length: 50 inches Wingspan: 85 inches Seasonality: Migrant
ID Keys: Large size, white body, black wing tips, reddish bare skin on crown
Whooping Crane - Grus americana

Whooping Cranes are one of the most endangered birds in North America.  Only 21 wild birds were left by 1941.  Strict protection has brought numbers slowly up, with well over 200 now in the wild, and nearly 300 in captivity.  Whooping Cranes are monogamous and mate for life.

Habitat: Sloughs, marshes, and fields on its migration through the state. 

Diet: Omnivorous.  Summer diet not well known, but eats aquatic plants, acorns, seeds and grain, insects, crustaceans, frogs, snakes, and fish on its wintering grounds in Texas.

Behavior: Forages both on land and in shallow water.  In water, forages by walking slowly and grabbing food items when spotted, or occasionally by standing still and waiting for fish and other prey items to approach.  On land, walks slowly across the landscape. 

Breeding: Currently a non-breeder in South Dakota.  However, historically they used to nest nearby in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota.  It is likely they used to nest in northeastern South Dakota prior to European settlement.

Song: Loud, carrying ker-le-loo.

Migration: Largest wild flock winters on the central Texas coast and summers in Wood Buffalo National Park in central Canada. 

Interactive eBird map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Whooping Crane sightings

Similar Species: Sandhill Crane

Conservation Status: Still seriously endangered, but populations are slowly and steadily increasing, with the total wild population now well over 200.  Efforts are underway to establish a migratory flock in Wisconsin as insurance against the possibility of a major event wiping out the only existing migratory flocks.  Young of the year are taught to follow an ultralight aircraft from the summer grounds in Wisconsin to the wintering grounds in Florida.  This program has met with some success, with some birds returning on their own to Wisconsin in subsequent years.

Further Information: 1) Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Whooping Crane

2) Cornell Lab of Ornithology - Whooping Crane

3) International Crane Foundation article

Photo Information: September 2010, taken at Calgary Zoo - Public domain photo obtained through Wikipedia Commons.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Range Map - Whooping Crane
South Dakota Status: Rare migrant.  Most sightings have occurred in central South Dakota

Additional Whooping Crane Photos (coming soon!)