Few birds native to North America better represent the desire of modern man to preserve and foster the natural world than the Whooping Crane. With a population of just 21 wild Whooping Cranes recorded in 1941, desperate and costly attempts have subsequently been made to encourage Whooping Crane population growth. Some 62 years later, a review of the species’ status showed 153 wild, breeding pairs were present in America. Worldwide, there is an estimated current population of just over 430 individual birds.
The Whooping Crane is an endangered species due to unregulated hunting and natural predation chiefly by mammals, such as bobcat, black bear, wolverine, and mountain lion. But other birds, including bald and golden eagles, and the common raven have been known to eat both the eggs and young of the Whooping Crane.
The tallest North American bird, standing 5 feet tall on average at full stretch; Whooping Cranes have become iconic largely through painstaking, countrywide measures to increase their numbers. As an overview of their physical characteristics, they possess an impressive wingspan of around 7 and one-half feet. Which allows for easy identification when flying overhead in combination with their outstretched neck in excess of 2 feet.
From head to toe, adults have a crimson red crown, a short beak (for their overall size), piercing yellow eyes, brilliant white feathers other than black wingtips, and long dark legs. Juveniles are dusty-cinnamon, their red crown takes a few months to come in, and usually it takes a year until their full height is realized.
Whooping Cranes migrate through Nebraska every spring and fall; heading north during spring to breed in Alberta, Canada (specifically Wood Buffalo National Park) and south during fall, to winter in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas.
For those understandably yearning to see this precious North American bird, the best places to catch a glimpse of their passage or, if you are especially lucky, stop over, head to the wetlands of the Central Table Playas, or the Loup, Niobara, and Platte Rivers.
Whooping Cranes generally fly in small clusters of around five birds. When progressing through Nebraska, history shows they usually follow a straight vertical line over the central region of the state. You will have to be quick though, as some of these migrating birds only stay for a matter of hours before taking flight for their next destination. So when staying in the Cornhusker state, make sure to stay poised as you may be blessed by the sight of one of North America’s rarest and now most fiercely protected birds passing through the sky.