Grus americana

Whooping Crane

Standing nearly five feet tall, making them the tallest bird in North America, and covered in bright white plumage, the whooping crane is a truly magnificent bird. They call with a loud, trumpeting bugle, and when courting, they call in unison.

The situation

Back from the brink

In the 1940s, only 21 whooping cranes remained in the wild due to overhunting and habitat loss. Since then, dedicated whooping crane captive breeding and reintroduction programs have contributed to an Eastern migratory population and several non-migratory populations in Louisiana and Florida, totalling approximately 660 wild individuals in 2021.

But not yet thriving

However, these reintroduced populations are not yet self-sustaining. The Aransas Wood Buffalo population is the only self-sustaining population, and is small, numbering only 506 individuals in 2021. Conservation efforts have improved the status of these endangered birds, but challenges remain. Poor reproductive success, habitat limitation, anthropogenic and climatic stressors, and poaching are on-going threats to this species.

Photo Credit: John McKinnon 2021, Wood Buffalo National Park aerial view

Our work

The Wilder Institute has been leading Canada’s only conservation breeding program for this species. This vital work is sponsored by ConocoPhillips Canada. Working with our partners, we study whooping cranes in and near Wood Buffalo National Park. Researchers are using satellite imagery to detect nesting whooping cranes and remote cameras to study causes of reproductive failure.

Low egg hatch rate is another challenge to whooping cranes. To identify and understand the reasons for hatch failure in whooping crane populations, our researchers need to discriminate between male infertility and early embryo death. The knowledge gained of this underlying biology will help increase the efficacy of captive breeding programs and identify important research gaps.

In addition, together with our partners, the Wilder Institute is studying incubation at wild whooping crane nests in Louisiana. Researchers are using data-logger eggs to measure humidity, temperature, and egg turning, along with nest observation data to understand why some eggs hatch and others do not. This research will be used to improve artificial incubation practices.

Conservation breeding

Since 1992, the Wilder Institute has been part of conservation breeding for whooping cranes. Whooping cranes hatched at the Wildlife Conservation Center at the Calgary Zoo become part of the captive conservation breeding program or are released in the Eastern migratory or Louisiana non-migratory populations. The eggs at the breeding facility are raised by a combination of methods; artificial incubation and parent-rearing (by true or conspecific foster parents).

Our conservation impact

The Wilder Institute aims to strengthen our understanding of the challenges the whooping cranes are faced with. By improving translocation success through research of alternate methods and improving captive and wild reproductive success, we aim to establish self-sustaining populations of whooping cranes in the wild that are genetically stable and resilient to environmental events.

Did you know?

During their migration from Texas to Alberta, whooping cranes can fly seven hours straight and over 400 km daily!

This vital work is sponsored by ConocoPhillips Canada.

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