The Whooping Crane migratory journey takes the cranes to a wide range of habitats and locales that are key to sustaining their energy and young. When mating pairs are successful at Wood Buffalo National Park they will migrate to Texas with the new young, who learn the migration path from these early journeys with their parents. This is why historically, Whooping Cranes hatched in captive-rearing programs that are reintroduced to other populations were taught the migration path by humans. This has sparked some unique conservation work, including researchers raising juveniles while wearing crane costumes to avoid imprinting on humans and using a tiny, 1-person aircraft to guide cranes along their migration route to help them learn it.
Dr. Bondar takes aerial photographs in Whooping Crane stopover sites in Saskatchewan and the American Midwest.
When flocks land at Wood Buffalo National Park, they settle into their preferred habitats: shallow wetlands and grasslands. To create their nests, cranes gather wetland vegetation and mud into a mound in the shallow water that is well disguised from predators and add a depression in the center for eggs. The nests are typically 0.6-1.5 meters / 2-5 feet in length, and the eggs will incubate in these nests for about 1 month. Often, young cranes will return to the same areas where they spent their early years, in both the nesting and wintering habitats
After migration to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Whooping Cranes take advantage of the bays, marshes, and salt flats to feed and rest over the winter season, eating a diet especially heavy on blue crabs, clams, and wolfberry fruits. Whooping Cranes are omnivores and require their habitats and stopovers to have an abundance of their main food sources: small crustaceans, small fish, insects, grains, and marsh plants, among others.
The migration path of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population is fine-tuned to provide all the necessary habitat and resources needed for their lives and reproduction. But increasing disruptions that alter this path and its viability threaten the population’s recovery. Various disruptions impact habitats; stopover habitat has been lost due to the construction of wind farms which Whooping Cranes avoid, human and boat traffic in wintering habitats displacing cranes, declines in blue crab population, and more.
Explore more below to learn about Whooping Cranes!
- UNESCO: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/256/#:~:text=Outstanding%20Universal%20Value,-Brief%20synthesis&text=Wood%20Buffalo%20National%20Park%20is,wood%20bison%2C%20a%20threatened%20species
- Government of Canada: https://parks.canada.ca/pn-np/nt/woodbuffalo/nature/science_nature/Cranes_Grue
- All About Birds: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Whooping_Crane/overview
- Hinterland Who’s Who: https://www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/birds/whooping-crane.html
- Government of Texas: https://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_bk_w7000_0013_whooping_crane.pdf