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That’s a Big Bird! Whooping it up

Whooping CraneBy Tonya Veal
Photos Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

What is yellow-eyed, red-faced and considered a great dancer?  A whooping crane!

The endangered whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America. Whooping cranes, also called whoopers, can be found in Canada, Texas, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Florida.

About 5 feet tall with a long neck and legs, this crane is almost as tall as some adults. A whooping crane’s wingspan is a massive 7 1/2 feet.

Mostly bones and feathers, whooping cranes weigh only about 15 pounds.  The feathers on the tips of their wings are black and the rest are white, including a fluffy bump of tail feathers.

Female whooping cranes speak to their mate in a series of shrill sounds like “chu-loo . . . cheerah-loo.” Males respond with a single sound and a wide spread of their wings.

All ages and sexes of whooping cranes dance by jumping, bending, running, wing-flapping and stick- or grass-tossing.  Dancing is used by adult cranes in courtship.  Younger whooping cranes dance as a normal part of their development.

Whooping Crane
Whooping Cranes learn to migrate by following ultralight

When they are not dancing, whoopers love to eat marsh and bay critters like crabs, shrimp, crayfish, minnows, frogs and snakes. Some plants or insects serve as a tasty snack.

Expansion of farmland areas, natural disasters such as storms and hunting for feathers brought about the near extinction of the whooping crane. By 1937, there were only about 15 whooping cranes left.  Today, thanks to conservation efforts of many groups, these migratory cranes are building their numbers into the hundreds.

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) is a team of several organizations. WCEP members aid in migration and reintroduction projects for whooping cranes.  One project involves small airplanes called ultralights. The cranes follow the ultralights from Wisconsin to Florida, learning winter migration routes. In the spring, the cranes return to Wisconsin without help from the planes.

During the cranes’ first winter in Florida, biologists care for and monitor the birds. Caretakers dress in costumes so the whooping cranes do not get used to being around humans.  Being reclusive or afraid of humans and other possible predators is a natural defense mechanism for wild birds.

There are numerous nonprofit and governmental agencies involved in helping this endangered species.
To learn more about whooping cranes, you can visit these websites:

Back To YBO Home PageThat’s a BIG BIRD!
This story about Whooping Cranes is the third in a series of stories about big birds in America, which began with the story about Trumpeter Swans and American White Pelicans. Watch for new stories on the California Condor as well as an unusual big bird found in the United Kingdom and Europe, the Great Bustard.

Click here to read Trumpeter Swans -- Mates for Life

Click here to read Sneaky Scoopers -- the Pelican Story

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