Whooping Crane (Grus americana)
(Federally listed as Endangered)
Description: At a height of nearly five feet, the Whooping Crane is the tallest bird in North America. It is a large white crane with red markings on its face and crown, and black feathers on the outer ends of its wings. Cranes fly with their necks stretched out straight, and this distinguishes them from the similar-looking herons and egrets that hold their necks in an “S” shape while in flight. Cranes feed in marshes, shallow-water wetlands, wet meadows and sometime crop fields and eat a wide range of insects, crayfish, fish and seeds.
Habitat: Whooping Cranes pass through Oklahoma each spring and fall during migration. While in our state, they are typically found in shallow wetlands, marshes, the margins of ponds and lakes, sandbars and shorelines of shallow rivers, wet prairies and crop fields near wetlands.
Current and Historic Distribution: During their migration, they pass through the western half of Oklahoma – most sighting occur west of Interstate 35 and east of Guymon in the panhandle. Currently, the migratory population consists of approximately 270 birds that nest in northern Canada and winter along the Gulf Coast of Texas. Historically, the Whooping Crane’s nesting range was much larger and extended across the northern plains of central Canada and the north-central U.S. There was also a small non-migratory population along the western Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Texas.
Reasons for Decline: The greatest cause of the Whooping Crane’s decline was the loss of shallow wetland habitat in both the nesting and the wintering ranges. This species was affected also by unregulated market hunting in the 1800s before modern wildlife conservation laws were passed.