Whooping Crane: The Ultimate Guide

The whooping crane is known to be the tallest North American bird. These tall birds have long legs and long necks, and get their name from the iconic whooping sound that they produce. 

Interestingly, they are one of only two crane species which are native to North America.

However, they are under threat of extinction because of a loss of habitat, as well as down to unregulated hunting. After some effort by conservationists, the whooping crane population has increased to more than 800 birds.


An adult whooping crane can be recognized by its white plumage, red crown, and a dark, long, pointed bill. The whooping crane’s bill is stout and straight.

When the cranes are in a standing position, they can be recognized from their slender body which then widens into a plump collection of feathers at the tail.

Their necks are long and elegant, and during flight, these are kept straight, with their equally long legs trailing behind them. The whooping crane’s wings are broad during flight.

Immature whooping cranes have a mottled brown upper plumage, with a whitish belly.

These are elegant birds which are very agile, lightweight fliers, despite their impressive height. They are actually the tallest North American bird that is capable of flight.

There isn’t all that much difference in height between the male and the female, and they both have the same plumage. This is in contrast to many birds where the males and females have different markings.

Size Measurements

Wingspan: 7.5ft, 90 inches, 229cm

Weight: 13.3lbs to 17.2lbs, 6kg to 7.8kg

Body length: 4.9ft, 59 inches, 150cm

Male Vs Female

Interestingly, there isn’t much difference between the male and female birds. The male whooping crane can be slightly larger than the females, but this is mostly where the difference ends.

Both males and females have the same plumage.

Are They Aggressive?

Whooping cranes will only tend to be aggressive when it comes to defending their nest and their young. Both parents will defend their offspring and their nest, however, the males are usually more aggressive than the females.

Whooping cranes are naturally very wary of humans, and will likely defend themselves if you were to get too close to their nest.

Impressively, the whooping crane will use their aggressive behavior as a defense to get predators away from their nest. Juveniles are more likely to fall prey to a predator as they aren’t as experienced at fighting them off.

What Adaptations Do They Have?

The whooping crane has been adapted for flying. They have a lightweight frame of around 15lbs (6.8kg), even despite their impressive height.

Unlike humans, the whooping crane has hollow bones to help make them even lighter when in flight. They also have special flight feathers to help aid them when in the air.

Because they are only active in the daylight, they have piercing yellow eyes to help them move around their surroundings. Their beaks are long and slender to help them forage for food in weeds and grass.

Their long necks also allow them to forage for food from the bottom of streams and lakes without getting the rest of their body feathers wet.

Whooping cranes also have fantastic hearing, which is covered by their feathers.

Breeding/Reproduction Behaviour

This is a bird that will tend to form a pair bond for life. The adult whooping cranes will form into pairs around 2 or 3 years of age.

They will find their mates by performing elaborate displays which often include leaping, flapping their wings, flinging grass and features, and tossing their heads.

Once a pair has bonded, they will then lay between one to three eggs, most likely two.

However, only one baby crane will typically survive to adulthood. This juvenile bird will become independent early on, but will stay with its parents during its first year.

Their Calls/Sounds

This bird is known for its whooping call. That’s where it gets its name from, after all! The whooping crane will give a single note, very loud bugle when it’s disturbed.

It will typically only last for a second or two. Whooping cranes will call in unison to one another when courting. Their loud call can be heard from as far as 5 miles away.

When the birds are feeding, they will often give off a low purr to help them stay in contact with one another.

What Do They Eat? (Diet)

Whooping cranes typically eat a diet of aquatic invertebrates such as crustaceans, insects, and invertebrates. They also eat small vertebrates such as amphibians, birds, fish, reptiles, and mammals.

They are also known for eating berries, acorns, grains, marsh plants, and roots.

Where Do They Live? (Habitat)

Whooping Crane

Typically you will find whooping cranes in marshes, mudflats, wetlands, fields, and wet prairies.

They are native across North America, and can be found at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas during the winter months. In the summer, they can be found at the remote Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada.

During the migratory period, you may notice whooping cranes in certain stopover locations such as Nebraska’s Platte River.

What Are Their Nesting Habits?

Once an adult pair has bonded, they will choose a suitable nesting ground. This will typically be in the shallow water of sloughs, marshes, lake margins, or often on small islands.

The cranes will make sure to take advantage of any natural vegetation which could hide the nest from predators. The pair will choose a new nesting site each year.

How Long Do They Live? (Lifespan)

The whooping crane can live for an impressive 22 to 30 years in the wild. They have been known to live for anywhere between 35 to 40 years in captivity.

What Predators Do They Have?

The most common predators for the whooping crane are black bears, cougars, coyotes, eagles, foxes, and wolves.

However, the one predator that has completely decimated their natural numbers is humans.

What Are Their Feathers Like?

The plumage of a whooping crane is white. These body and wing feathers are a bright white, apart from the tips of the wings, which are black.

These black primary feathers won’t show until the whooping crane is in flight.

What Does Their Poop Look Like?

Whooping crane scat is rather substantial in size, and fairly different from other bird species so that it is easy to recognize.

You can typically tell which foods the whooping crane has been eating from what their poop looks like. Whooping crane scat tends to have a salty aroma.

Do They Migrate?

Yes, whooping cranes do migrate. They will tend to migrate south towards Texas during the fall, typically around mid September. They will then migrate to back up north to Canada during late March or early April.

They have been known to migrate more than 2,400 miles each year. 

It is estimated that around 1,400 whooping cranes were known to migrate across North America during the mid-1800s. Unfortunately, this population has now dropped down to an estimated 600 to 800.

Conservation Status

The whooping crane is considered to be highly endangered. Even though they had a booming population back in the 1800s, thanks to a loss of habitat, as well as overhunting. 

It is thought that before the interference of humans, there were as many as 15,000 up to a whopping 20,000 whooping cranes in the wild. This population was then reduced down to a mere 15 wild birds in the 1940s.

These birds all belonged to a single flock, which was then protected by governments and conservationists to encourage them to survive and breed.

Thanks to extensive conservation efforts, the whooping crane population has now been boosted up to around 600 to 800 wild cranes. However, they are still considered to be an endangered species.

Fun Facts

Whooping crane hatchlings aren’t capable of flight, however, they can still swim to escape from predators

There is a program known as Operation Migration, which used ultralight aircraft to teach whooping cranes to learn migratory paths

The trachea of a whooping crane can coil to around 9 inches within their sternum when they call out, which helps to increase the volume of their call as well as the variance in pitch. This call can be heard from up to 5 miles away

These birds are considered to be elegant fliers and catch wind and thermal gusts to fly for long distances without flapping their wings

The whooping crane is actually the rarest of all the crane species

They are the tallest North American bird that is able to fly

Thanks to a loss of habitat and overhunting, the whooping crane was nearly made extinct in the 1900s

Despite their impressive height, whooping cranes are lightweight and excellent fliers

Whooping cranes tend to nest in shallow water during the nighttime so that splashes can alert them to any nearby predators

The chicks of whooping cranes sleep while standing up

A collection of cranes is called a construction, dance, sedge, siege, or a swoop