Earth’s Treasure Chest
Wildlife Mural Mosaic

Leschyshyn, Sylvia


Magnificent and Imperiled - Whooping Crane

Artist Comments: Few childhood memories are as vivid and lasting as the resonant call of the Whooping Crane and the community excitement surrounding the rare spotting of this magnificent yet endangered species. I grew up in the Quill Lakes region of Saskatchewan; now an acclaimed International Bird Area, Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Site, and Ramsar Site, it is a spring and fall staging area for thousands of shorebirds and Sandhill Cranes, and lies in the path of the migration route of Whooping Cranes from the nesting grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta, to the winter refuge of the Aransas National Wildlife Reserve off the Gulf of Mexico. As elementary students we learned that only about 20 birds had survived the onslaught of settlement, draining of wetlands, development of land and indiscriminant hunting. Today, largely due to major conservation efforts and public awareness, the wild population is estimated at 279, of which 188 are migrating cranes. The wild and captive population in North America is now at about 388 individuals. When the number exceeds 1000 individuals, the status will improve from an endangered to a threatened species.

Whooping Cranes are the tallest of birds on this continent, standing 1.5 meters tall. They are easily identified by their snowy white plumage and long pointed bills, as well as a prominent black patch on the head, red markings on the top of the head and cheeks, and yellow eyes. In flight, the black-tipped wings have a span of more than 2 meters, the long neck is extended forward, and the thin black legs trail straight behind; they glide on thermal drafts to conserve energy, and may remain aloft for up to 10 hours. Usually two eggs are laid, and reddish-orange young hatch in late May or early June. Whooping Cranes migrate as families, and the young, cinnamon to white in colour during their first migration, may be mistaken for Sandhill Cranes. They mate for life and often live 24 years.