Whooping Crane
(Grus americana)


Picture of bird
© Klause Nigge
For additional photos and vocalizations, visit Dendroica. (Link opens in a new window.)

The only remaining self-sustaining wild population of Whooping Cranes breeds in and near Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park (NWT, Alberta) and winters in coastal Texas. Although likely never an abundant species, the Whooping Crane was assessed as Endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) in 1978 because of its rapid decline to very low abundance in the early 20th century. It was re-confirmed as Endangered in 2000 and 2010 because of its small population size, despite continual growth of the population since the initial designation in 1978. Intensive management in both Canada and the United States, where the species is also listed as Endangered, has allowed numbers in the wild to rebound from a low of 18 individuals in 1938 to a record high of 505 individuals (including adults and juveniles) in the winter of 2017-18. Canada's responsibility for this species' conservation is very high. This species has been identified as a priority for conservation and/or stewardship in one or more Bird Conservation Region Strategies in Canada.


Main designations for the species
DesignationStatusDateSubspecies, population
COSEWIC (Canada)Endangered2010 
SARA (Canada)Endangered2003 
IUCN (Global)Endangered2018 
Partners in Flight (North America)Watch list - yellow R2017 
Wild Species (Canada)Critically imperiled2015 
State of North America’s BirdsWatch list2016 
Bird Conservation Region StrategyPriority Species2013 

Population status

Geographic area or populationPopulation change relative to ~1970ReliabilityStatus in relation to goal
CanadaLarge IncreaseHighBelow Acceptable Level

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
Canada500 - 1,000 breeding birds

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence

Short-distance migrant

Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population
CanadaVery High

Conservation and management

The original Whooping Crane decline has been largely attributed to the conversion of natural grasslands into agricultural fields (Allen 1952), unregulated hunting (Meine and Archibald 1996), and destruction of important wetlands (Lewis 1995); threats to habitat, particularly during migration and winter, remain the main factor limiting population recovery (COSEWIC 2010e). The Whooping Crane's restricted range during both breeding and wintering seasons leaves it highly vulnerable to extreme weather events and to direct human influence (e.g., development, boat traffic, or chemical spills near wintering sites; Lewis 1995, COSEWIC 2010e). Collisions with human-made structures such as power lines, especially during migration, and disease, present additional mortality risks, while predation, late maturity, and small clutch sizes all further limit population growth (Lewis 1995, COSEWIC 2010e). Since 1967, intensive captive-breeding efforts have permitted the establishment of additional managed wild populations. However, these captive-reared individuals have difficulty rearing their own young in the wild (COSEWIC 2010e, Barzen et al. 2018), leading management agencies in Canada and the United States to explore modifications to their captive-breeding programs (e.g., USFWS 2015). For information on the legal status of this species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and to view the Recovery Strategy, see the SARA Registry.


Bird conservation region strategies

Environment and Climate Change Canada and partners have developed Bird Conservation Region Strategies in each of Canada’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs). In these strategies, selected species are identified as priorities for one or more of the following reasons:

  • conservation concerns (i.e., species vulnerable due to population size, distribution, population trend, abundance, or threats)
  • stewardship responsibilities (i.e., species that typify the regional avifauna or have a large proportion of their range or population in the sub-region)
  • management concerns (i.e., species that require ongoing management because of their socio-economic importance as game species, or because of their impacts on other species or habitats)
  • other concerns (i.e., species deemed a priority by regional experts for other reasons than those listed above or because they are listed as species at risk or concern at the provincial level)

Select any of the sub-regions below to view the BCR strategy for additional details.

BCRs, marine biogeographic units, and sub-regions in which the species is listed as a priority
RegionSub-region and priority type
Boreal Taiga PlainsBoreal Taiga Plains, sub-region and priority type: Prairie and Northern -- Conservation
Prairie PotholesPrairie Potholes, sub-region and priority type: Prairie and Northern -- Other