The Whooping Crane is named for its call, which can be heard over great distances thanks to the bird’s extra-long trachea, which coils around its breastbone twice like a French horn. Like other cranes, the Whooper is noisy; the word “crane” comes from the Anglo-Saxon “cran,” which means “to cry out.”
The tallest flying bird in North America, Whooping Cranes measure up to five feet tall with a seven- to eight-foot wingspan. The species also has another distinction: It is the rarest crane in the world. Several decades ago, it almost disappeared forever due to habitat loss and hunting.
Still extremely rare, Whooping Cranes are on the WatchList and protected as an endangered species. Sadly, up to one-quarter of all Whoopers are shot and killed. (Participate in our action alert to bring the shooters to justice.)
Whooping Cranes are monogamous and mate for life. Pairs perform an elaborate dance display during courtship, with leaps, wing flaps, head tosses, and flinging of light objects such as feathers and grass.
The last wild flock of Whoopers numbered fewer than 20 birds in the 1940s. Fortunately, conservation efforts and international cooperation between Canada and the United States reversed what looked like a sure extinction.
Loss or deterioration of critical wetland habitat (including reduced fresh water at wintering grounds in Texas) remains one of the biggest threats facing wild Whooping Cranes. This limited amount of habitat leaves the birds vulnerable to catastrophic weather events or oil spills. Collisions with power lines and wind turbines are an ongoing threat.
And again, Illegal shooting, most recently in Kentucky and Louisiana, still occurs. In the past five years, at least 16 Whooping Cranes have been shot, and most court sentences have been an insufficient deterrent.
This article was first published by American Bird Conservancy.