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North Dakota's Endangered and Threatened Species

Whooping Crane
Grus americana

JPG -- Picture and Range Map of Species

Status: Endangered

The whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America standing at 5 feet tall with a wingspan of 7 feet. It is white with black wing tips and red markings on the head. These birds fly with a slow downward flap and a rapid upstroke, similar to that of the sandhill crane which they often accompany during migration. Casual observers have confused these birds with the tundra swan which is entirely white and approaching the whopper's size, but without the long stilt-like legs.

The historical breeding range of this bird included North Dakota where the state's last nesting record was documented in 1915. By the 1940's, there were an estimated 21 whooping cranes left in the world.

Presently, there are about 145 whooping cranes in the wild. Roughly 132 birds winter in Texas and breed in the Northwest Territories. These are the migrating birds that may be observed in North Dakota during the spring and fall. The remaining birds migrate between national wildlife refuges in Idaho and New Mexico.

Whooping cranes inhabit shallow wetlands but may also be found in upland areas, especially during migration. They mate for life and lay two eggs in a nest of bulrush and other vegetation. Eggs hatch in about 29 days and usually only one chick survives due to the larger chick's aggressive behavior. Young cranes may fly after about 90 days of care by both parents. These birds may live for 20 years and feed on aquatic life such as crayfish, frogs and plants.

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