Endangered Whooping Crane with more common Sandhill Cranes

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Whooping Crane (Gruiformes: Gruidae: Grus americana) with a Sandhill Crane (Gruiformes: Gruidae: Grus canadensis) photographed 08/01/2013 near Clayton Michigan.

It’s estimated there were over 10,000 Whooping Cranes (Gruiformes: Gruidae: Grus americana) living in North America prior to European discovery and settlement. Subsequent decades of habitat loss and overhunting decimated their population. By 1941 Whooping Cranes were one of the rarest and most critically-endangered animals in the world, with only 15-20 known individuals in existence.

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Whooping Crane (Gruiformes: Gruidae: Grus americana) with Sandhill Cranes (Gruiformes: Gruidae: Grus canadensis) photographed 08/01/2013 near Clayton Michigan.

Although once on the brink of extinction, conservation efforts have helped this tallest North American bird down the road to recovery. Today there are still only a few hundred in the world, and although they remain endangered the future looks promising. Their population has increased at an average rate of 4% per year, but they do continue to face challenges.

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Whooping Crane (Gruiformes: Gruidae: Grus americana) photographed 08/01/2013 near Clayton Michigan.

Habitat loss from human encroachment continues to be an ongoing threat to this species’ survival. The isolated marshes, swamps, and ponds they prefer have shrunk in the face of development.

In spite of stiff penalties these cranes are still hunted to some extent, sometimes by malicious individuals and sometimes by hunters who ignorantly mistake them for game species.

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Whooping Crane (Gruiformes: Gruidae: Grus americana) with a Sandhill Crane (Gruiformes: Gruidae: Grus canadensis) photographed 08/01/2013 near Clayton Michigan.

Captive-bred, introduced animals can also have trouble acclimating to the wild. Non-profit groups like Operation Migration help to teach new cranes their traditional migration routes by leading them with ultralight aircraft. The US Fish & Wildlife Service also continuously marks and tracks individuals to monitor their progress.

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Whooping Crane (Gruiformes: Gruidae: Grus americana) with identifying bands put in place by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Photographed 08/01/2013 near Clayton Michigan.

Although incapable of cross-breeding, Whooping Cranes often form associations with much more common Sandhill Cranes (Gruiformes: Gruidae: Grus canadensis), perhaps seeking community associations in the absence of their kin. In the past Whooping Cranes raised by Sandhills imprinted on their foster parents and would only attempt mating with Sandhills rather than their own species.

Although human interference has long harmed the survival of this magnificent species, today many people have helped to affect them in a positive way. The hard work of numerous individuals, combined with the birds’ own will to survive, has brought them back from the edge of extinction. Although their survival remains tenuous, the ongoing efforts to save them remain an optimistic symbol of conservation.

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About Jeremy Sell

Science and nature nerd.
This entry was posted in Ecology, Organism Interactions, Vertebrate Zoology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Endangered Whooping Crane with more common Sandhill Cranes

  1. Jenny says:

    How fascinating! What a shame that those raised with Sandhills don’t mate with each other. It would be so ideal if they did.

    While I’ve not yet had the pleasure of meeting a Whooper, I once lived on a farm in northern Wisconsin that was occupied by a sweet pair of Sandhills. It was always a very great pleasure and honor to hear them fly over the field and come upon them in the hay meadow.

    Like

  2. I have supported Operation Migration for several years now… What they do is nothing short of amazing…. Michelle

    Like

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