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Whooping Cranes      


The whooping crane is the tallest North American bird. Males, which may approach 1.5 meters in height, are larger than females. Adults are snowy white except for black primary feathers on the wings and a bare red face and crown. Whooping cranes are monogamous, and their life span is estimated to be approximately 22 to 24 years in the wild. They feed on insects, frogs, rodents, small birds, minnows, and berries in the summer. In the winter, they focus on predominantly animal foods, especially blue crabs and clams. They also, forage for acorns, snails, crayfish and insects in upland areas.


On the wintering grounds at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, whooping cranes use the salt marshes that are dominated by salt grass, saltwort, smooth cordgrass, glasswort, and sea ox-eye. They also forage in the interior portions of the refuge, characterized by oak brush, grassland, swales, and ponds. The nesting area in Wood Buffalo National Park is a region interspersed with numerous potholes that have not been drained. Other habitats include dry prairie and flatwoods with saw palmetto, various grasses, scattered slash pine, and scattered strands of cypress.


Autumn migration begins in mid-September, and most birds arrive on the wintering grounds of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast during late-October to mid-November. Whooping cranes migrate singly, in pairs, in family groups or in small flocks, and are sometimes accompanied by sandhill cranes. They are diurnal migrants, stopping regularly to rest and feed, and use traditional migration staging areas.


The current nesting range of the self-sustaining natural wild population is restricted to Wood Buffalo National Park in Saskatchewan, Canada. The current wintering grounds of this population are restricted to the Texas Gulf Coast at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and vicinity. A major traditional migratory stopover is at Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. The whooping crane is experiencing a gradual positive population trend overall, although some years exhibit stationary or negative results.