WILDLIFE SPECIES: Grus americana
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Grus americana
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Tesky, Julie L. 1993. Grus americana. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ .
ABBREVIATION : GRAM COMMON NAMES : whooping crane whooper big white crane flying sheep Grue blanche stork white crane TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name for the whooping crane is Grus americana (Linnaeus). There are no subspecies [7,10,11,13]. ORDER : Gruiformes CLASS : Bird FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : Endangered  OTHER STATUS : Information on state- and province-level protection status of animals in the United States and Canada is available at NatureServe.
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Grus americana
WILDLIFE DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : The whooping crane is found only in North America . Historically its range extended from the Arctic coast south to central Mexico and from the Rocky Mountain region in Utah eastward to the Atlantic coast [3,10]. Only two populations exist today . The only known breeding population of whooping cranes nests in and around Wood Buffalo National Park in the southern Northwest Territories and northern Alberta. This population winters along the coast of Texas near Corpus Christi on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Matagorda Island, Isla San Jose, and portions of the Lamar Peninsula and Welder Point, which is on the east side of San Antonio Bay known as Welder Point. Some occur occasionally on nearby farmlands [3,10]. The migration route includes much of the Great Plains region between northern Canada and the Texas coast [3,11]. This route passes through northeastern Alberta, southwestern Saskatchewan, northeastern Montana, western and central North and South Dakota, central Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and east-central Texas . Using greater sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis tabida) as foster parents, a second flock was established at Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Idaho in 1975 . This population summers in the vicinity of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which includes Yellowstone National Park; Grays Lake, Island Park, and Teton Basin in Idaho; Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming; and the Centennial Valley in Montana . These whooping cranes winter with greater sandhill cranes in the Rio Grande area of south-central New Mexico . ECOSYSTEMS : FRES15 Oak-hickory FRES17 Elm-ash-cottonwood FRES36 Mountain grasslands FRES37 Mountain meadows FRES38 Plains grasslands FRES39 Prairie FRES41 Wet grasslands STATES :
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Grus americana
BIOLOGICAL DATA AND HABITAT REQUIREMENTS
TIMING OF MAJOR LIFE HISTORY EVENTS : Courtship - Mate selection occurs on the wintering grounds or during migration . Whooping cranes are monogamous and normally pair for life; they will remate following the death of a mate. Each pair returns to the previous year's breeding territory but constructs a new nest [7,11]. Migration - Whooping cranes generally arrive on the breeding grounds during late April . The southward migration begins anywhere from mid-September to mid-October and normally all cranes are on their wintering grounds by mid-November [4,10]. Occasional stragglers may arrive in late December . Age of first reproduction - Whooping cranes become sexually mature between 4 and 6 years of age [3,7,11]. Egg laying and incubation - Whooping cranes generally lay two eggs, 2 days apart, in late April or early May. Both sexes incubate . Incubation period is between 29 and 34 days [3,7,10,11]. Fledging - Whooping cranes fledge between 78 and 90 days . Young whooping cranes are fed by both parents for an extended time during their first fall and winter of life and are not independent until they are gradually adandoned by their parents the following spring . Usually only one chick survives . Life span - Whooping cranes live an average of 22 to 24 years . PREFERRED HABITAT : Nesting habitat - Whooping cranes breed and nest along lake margins or among rushes and sedges in marshes and meadows [1,3,7,10,11]. The water in these wetlands is anywhere from 8 to 10 inches (20-25 cm) to as much as 18 inches (46 cm) deep. Many of the ponds have border growths of bulrushes and cattails, which occasionally cover entire bays and arms of the larger lakes. Nesting has also been reported on muskrat houses and on damp prairie sites . Whooping cranes prefer sites with minimal human disturbance . Winter habitat - Whooping cranes winter on estuarine marshes, shallow bays, and tidal salt flats . The salt flats vary under differing tidal conditions from dry sandy flats to pools of salt water up to 3 feet (1 m) deep . Whooping cranes stop on wetlands, river bottoms, and agricultural lands along their migration route . COVER REQUIREMENTS : Wetlands provide the whooping crane with protection from terrestrial predators . FOOD HABITS : Whooping cranes are omnivorous feeders. Some of the more common food items taken are crabs, clams, shrimp, snails, frogs, snakes, grasshoppers, larval and nymph forms of flies, beetles, water bugs, birds and small mammals [1,3,10]. They eat over 58 species of fish . During the fall, whooping cranes eat blue crabs (Callinectes sapiden) almost exclusively. In December and January the tidal flats and sloughs drain and the birds move into shallow bays and channels to forage. In these areas whooping cranes feed primarily on clams of at least six species. Clams are important food items during periods of low water and cold temperatures, and during drought when high salinities reduce the blue crab population . Plants commonly eaten include saltgrass (Distichlis spp.), three-square rush, beaked spikerush (Eleocharis rostellata), marsh onion, saltwort, and the acorns of live oak, pin oak (Quercus palustris), and blackjack oak (Q. marilandica) . PREDATORS : Potential predators of the whooping crane include the black bear (Ursus americanus), wolverine (Gulo luscus), gray wolf (Canis lupus), red fox (Vulpes fulva), lynx (Lynx canadensis), and raven (Corvus corax) [1,10]. MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Whooping cranes can tolerate very little human disturbance, especially during nesting, brood rearing, and during flightless molt (May to mid-August). Slight human disturbance is often sufficient to cause adults to desert nests . On wintering grounds, whooping cranes will tolerate human disturbance if it is not associated with obvious threats . Potential hazards to whooping cranes increase as human use of crane habitat increases. Barges carrying chemicals occupy the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway through the whooping cranes' wintering habitat every day. A spill or leak of these chemicals could contaminate the cranes' food supply, or poison or injure the cranes directly. Additionally, numerous oil and gas wells and connecting pipelines are located in the bays surrounding the cranes' habitat. Commercial fishing activities with nets is another potential hazard to whooping cranes . Some causes of whooping crane mortality are illegal shooting, powerline collisions, collisions or entangelment in barbed wire fences, and diseases, especially avian tuberculosis and coccidia [3,10]. Fecal accumulations and concentrations of coccidia oocysts at breeding sites on the nesting grounds may infect whooping crane chicks. When planning new powerline construction, wetlands and immediate adjacent areas frequented by whooping cranes should be avoided . Cross-fostering using greater sandhill cranes at Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge, in southeastern Idaho, began in 1975. Whooping crane eggs from the wild or from captive breeders are placed in greater sandhill crane nests, and the sandhill cranes incubate, hatch, and rear whooping crane chicks [10,12]. To date no whooping cranes cross-fostered by sandhill cranes have successfully paired and nested .
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Grus americana
FIRE EFFECTS AND USE
DIRECT FIRE EFFECTS ON ANIMALS : Fire could destroy whooping crane nests. Additionally, molting adults and flightless chicks are vulnerable to fire due to their reduced mobility. Although fire has burned portions of the nesting area in the past, loss of eggs, chicks, or adults has not been documented . HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS : On the whooping cranes' upland wintering grounds, fires burn off dead grasses, making acorns very easy to obtain. Fires on the cranes' nesting grounds are generally caused by lightning during drought conditions. These fires could destroy vegetation, making eggs and chicks more susceptible to predation . FIRE USE : Whooping cranes are attracted to burned uplands on their wintering grounds. Here, low-severity prescribed fires can be used to burn off dead grasses around stands of oak (Quercus spp.) brush [1,10]. When burning areas for the benefit of whooping cranes, plots should be burned in late winter when food supply is low. During an emergency, such as an oil spill on their wintering grounds, fires can be used to attract whooping cranes away from contaminated areas. On the whooping cranes' breeding grounds, fire is suppressed because of its threat to chicks and molting adults .
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