Fire Effects Information System (FEIS)
FEIS Home Page

Index of Species Information

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: [].
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 : The whooping crane is generally listed as Endangered. Populations in these administrative units are listed as Experimental Populations, Non-Essential [20]: Appert Lake National Wildlife Refuge Aransas National Wildlife Refuge Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge Audubon National Wildlife Refuge Audubon Wetland Management District Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge Sabine National Wildlife Refuge St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge 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
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : The whooping crane is found only in North America [3]. 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 [11]. 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 [10]. 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 [11]. 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 [3]. These whooping cranes winter with greater sandhill cranes in the Rio Grande area of south-central New Mexico [7]. ECOSYSTEMS : FRES15 Oak-hickory FRES17 Elm-ash-cottonwood FRES36 Mountain grasslands FRES37 Mountain meadows FRES38 Plains grasslands FRES39 Prairie FRES41 Wet grasslands STATES :
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : 7 Lower Basin and Range 9 Middle Rocky Mountains 14 Great Plains 16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS : K063 Foothills prairie K066 Wheatgrass - needlegrass K067 Wheatgrass - bluestem - needlegrass K068 Wheatgrass - grama - buffalograss K069 Bluestem - grama prairie K072 Sea oats prairie K074 Bluestem prairie K075 Nebraska Sandhills prairie K076 Blackland prairie K077 Bluestem - sacahuista prairie K078 Southern cordgrass prairie K084 Cross Timbers K098 Northern floodplain forest K100 Oak - hickory forest SAF COVER TYPES : 12 Black spruce 38 Tamarack 40 Post oak - blackjack oak 63 Cottonwood 88 Willow oak - water oak - diamondleaf oak 203 Balsam poplar 235 Cottonwood - willow 253 Black spruce - white spruce SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY PLANT COMMUNITIES : Whooping cranes' nesting grounds consist of wetland communities dominated by bulrush (Scirpus valicus). Cattail (Typha spp.), water sedge (Carex aquatilis), musk-grass (Chara spp.), slim-stem reedgrass (Calamagrostis neglecta), and spikerush (Eleocharis spp.) are also common [7,10]. These wetlands are separated by narrow ridges which support an overstory of black spruce (Picea mariana), tamarack (Larix laricina), and willow (Salix spp.) and an understory of bog birch (Betula glandulosa), Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum), and bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) [10]. The salt flats of their wintering grounds are dominated by coastal saltgrass (Distichlis spicata var. spicata), saltwort (Batis maritima), smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), glasswort (Salicornia spp.), bushy sea-oxeye (Borrichia flutescens), and gulf cordgrass (S. spartinae) [7,10]. The upland portion of the wintering grounds is predominately live oak (Quercus virginiana) and redbay (Persea borbonia) [10].


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Grus americana
TIMING OF MAJOR LIFE HISTORY EVENTS : Courtship - Mate selection occurs on the wintering grounds or during migration [11]. 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 [10]. 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 [10]. 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 [7]. Incubation period is between 29 and 34 days [3,7,10,11]. Fledging - Whooping cranes fledge between 78 and 90 days [3]. 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 [7]. Usually only one chick survives [11]. Life span - Whooping cranes live an average of 22 to 24 years [11]. 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 [7]. Whooping cranes prefer sites with minimal human disturbance [3]. Winter habitat - Whooping cranes winter on estuarine marshes, shallow bays, and tidal salt flats [11]. The salt flats vary under differing tidal conditions from dry sandy flats to pools of salt water up to 3 feet (1 m) deep [7]. Whooping cranes stop on wetlands, river bottoms, and agricultural lands along their migration route [11]. COVER REQUIREMENTS : Wetlands provide the whooping crane with protection from terrestrial predators [10]. 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 [1]. 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 [10]. 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) [1]. 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 [3]. On wintering grounds, whooping cranes will tolerate human disturbance if it is not associated with obvious threats [10]. 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 [10]. 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 [3]. 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 [3].


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Grus americana
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 [10]. 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 [10]. 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 [10]. FIRE REGIMES : Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes".

References for species: Grus americana

1. Allen, Robert P. 1952. The whooping crane. New York: National Audubon Society. 246 p. [19680]
2. Bernard, Stephen R.; Brown, Kenneth F. 1977. Distribution of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians by BLM physiographic regions and A.W. Kuchler's associations for the eleven western states. Tech. Note 301. Denver, CO: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 169 p. [434]
3. Clark, Tim W.; Harvey, Ann H.; Dorn, Robert D.; [and others], eds. 1989. Rare, sensitive, and threatened species of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Jackson, WY: Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative, Montana Natural Heritage Program, The Nature Conservancy, Mountain West Environmental Services. 153 p. [16007]
4. Anon. 1992. Briefs - endangered whooping crane. Ecology USA. 21(21): 196. [19677]
5. Eyre, F. H., ed. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters. 148 p. [905]
6. Garrison, George A.; Bjugstad, Ardell J.; Duncan, Don A.; [and others]. 1977. Vegetation and environmental features of forest and range ecosystems. Agric. Handb. 475. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 68 p. [998]
7. Johnsgard, Paul A. 1983. Cranes of the world. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. 257 p. [19678]
8. Kuchler, A. W. 1964. Manual to accompany the map of potential vegetation of the conterminous United States. Special Publication No. 36. New York: American Geographical Society. 77 p. [1384]
9. Moseley, Robert; Groves, Craig, compilers. 1990. Rare, threatened and endangered plants and animals of Idaho. Boise, ID: Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program, Natural Heritage Section. 33 p. [19328]
10. Olsen, David L,; Derrickson, Scott R. 1980. Whooping crane recovery plan. Washington D. C: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 206 p. [21184]
11. Reel, Susan; Schassberger, Lisa; Ruediger, William, compilers. 1989. Caring for our national community: Region 1 - threatened, endangered & sensitive species program. Missoula, MT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Region. 309 p. [19675]
12. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 1981. Endangered means there's still time. Washington, DC. 32 p. [19676]
13. Donohoe, Robert W. 1974. American hornbeam Carpinus caroliniana Walt. In: Gill, John D.; Healy, William M., eds. Shrubs and vines for northeastern wildlife. Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-9. Upper Darby, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station: 86-88. [13714]
14. Wood, Don A., compiler. 1994. Official lists of endangered & potentially endangered fauna and flora in Florida. Tallahassee, FL: Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. 22 p. [24196]
15. South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks. 1994. Fragile legacy: Endangered, threatened and rare animals of South Dakota. Pierre, SD: South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks, Wildlife Division. 55 p. [24341]
16. Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Threatened & Endangered Species. [n.d.]. Kansas threatened and endangered species. Topeka, KS. [Pamphlet]. [24374]
17. Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Nongame Wildlife Program. [n.d.]. Oklahoma's endangered species. Oklahoma City, OK. [Pamphlet]. [24375]
18. Wingfield, Greg. 1992. Nebraska's vanishing species. Lincoln, NE: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Wildlife Division, [Nebraskaland Magazine]. 15 p. [24344]
19. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. 1992. Canadian species at risk. Ottawa, ON. 10 p. [26183]
20. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 2016. Endangered Species Program, [Online]. Available: [86564]

FEIS Home Page