The elegant Whooping crane represents one of the most well-known conservation stories in the United States and thus has captured public imagination in this country. After being pushed to the brink of extinction by unregulated hunting and loss of habitat to just 21 wild and two captive whooping cranes by 1941, conservation efforts have led to a limited recovery. Whooping crane have white feathers almost entirely, aside from black and red marks on their faces and black tips on their wings, these being only visible when the wings are outstretched. Juveniles are reddish-cinnamon, this color becoming mottled as they grow older, until the full snowy-white plumage is attained by the end of an individual's second summer.
The Whooping crane is native to North America and lives within a very restricted range. Breeding takes place in Canada's Wood Buffalo National Park, and the birds winter on the Texas Gulf Coast or in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. A non-migratory population was introduced to the Kissimmee Prairie in Florida and currently a migratory population is being established that will spend summer in Wisconsin and winter over in Florida. The biggest population of these cranes is migratory, its summer nesting grounds being poorly drained wetlands and its winter habit being southern salt marshes.
Whooping cranes are diurnal, roosting at night on the ground. Historically, the bird is a migratory species, though only two of the three remaining wild populations migrate. They primarily live in mating pairs or small family groups. They move mainly by walking or flying. In flight, these cranes can flap, glide or soar, depending on the nature of the flight. Gliding and soaring are used more for the long migratory flights. When walking, whooping cranes bob their heads. Swimming is typically done by young chicks. The main form of communication is vocal communication. Their calls are important, as they deter predators, warn of attack, protect and care for the young, and locate other birds within the species.
Whooping cranes are omnivorous, and eat a range of wetland animals. Winter foods include clams and blue crabs; in the summer they eat aquatic invertebrates, frogs, small fish, and berries. During migration they mainly eat waste grain from agricultural fields
Whooping cranes are monogamous and usually the pair-bonds are for life. As spring approaches, the flock at the winter site grows restless: calling, dancing and flying before pairs and family groups finally set off on the journey north. The birds arrive at their nesting area in April, pairs returning to the same territory for subsequent years. The breeding season takes place from late April until May. Both males and females take part in building a flat nest on the ground, usually on top of a mound of vegetation that is surrounded by water. Two eggs are laid and incubation lasts for 28-31 days, mainly by the female but shared by both parents. Both adults feed the chicks. Very soon after hatching, the chicks follow the parent birds to the foraging areas. Chicks fledge at about 80-90 days and stay in their family groups until the next breeding season. Whooping cranes gain sexual maturity at 3-4 years.
Whooping cranes suffer today from human disturbance, illegal hunting and also collisions with power lines, as well as the predation of chicks and eggs.
According to Wikipedia, in February 2015 the total population of the Whooping crane was 603 birds including 161 captive birds. This species' population is classified as endangered (EN) but its numbers are increasing today.