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: www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/bird/gram/all.html .
COMMON NAMES :
big white crane
The currently accepted scientific name for the whooping crane is Grus
americana (Linnaeus). There are no subspecies [7,10,11,13].
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS :
The whooping crane is generally listed as Endangered. Populations in
these administrative units are listed as Experimental Populations,
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.
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
40 Post oak - blackjack oak
88 Willow oak - water oak - diamondleaf oak
203 Balsam poplar
235 Cottonwood - willow
253 Black spruce - white spruce
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
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) .
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)
WILDLIFE DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Grus americana
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 .
FRES36 Mountain grasslands
FRES37 Mountain meadows
FRES38 Plains grasslands
FRES41 Wet grasslands
BIOLOGICAL DATA AND HABITAT REQUIREMENTS
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Grus americana
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
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
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) .
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
FIRE EFFECTS AND USE
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 .
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 .
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. 
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. 
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. 
4. Anon. 1992. Briefs - endangered whooping crane. Ecology USA. 21(21): 196. 
5. Eyre, F. H., ed. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters. 148 p. 
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. 
7. Johnsgard, Paul A. 1983. Cranes of the world. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. 257 p. 
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. 
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. 
10. Olsen, David L,; Derrickson, Scott R. 1980. Whooping crane recovery plan. Washington D. C: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 206 p. 
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. 
12. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 1981. Endangered means there's still time. Washington, DC. 32 p. 
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. 
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. 
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. 
16. Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Threatened & Endangered Species. [n.d.]. Kansas threatened and endangered species. Topeka, KS. [Pamphlet]. 
17. Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Nongame Wildlife Program. [n.d.]. Oklahoma's endangered species. Oklahoma City, OK. [Pamphlet]. 
18. Wingfield, Greg. 1992. Nebraska's vanishing species. Lincoln, NE: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Wildlife Division, [Nebraskaland Magazine]. 15 p. 
19. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. 1992. Canadian species at risk. Ottawa, ON. 10 p. 
20. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 2016. Endangered Species Program, [Online]. Available: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/. 
FEIS Home Page