From: Ken Torkelson, USFWS (701-355-8528) April 19, 2007

Federal and state wildlife biologists have found no evidence of human involvement in the death of a whooping crane whose remains were found yesterday in a field near Almont, N.D.

Photos North Dakota Game and Fish Department

A farmer plowing his field found the remains of the rare bird. A preliminary inspection revealed the whooper may have suffered a broken neck. Investigators for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the N.D. Game and Fish Department said there appeared to be no evidence of foul play. They believe the bird had been dead for at least one day before it was found, but that it appeared to have been in good health. The carcass is being sent to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis. for analysis. [FOLLOW-UP: The crane died from blunt-force trauma, likely caused from the rare bird striking the ground. The bird could have had a heart attack before it hit the ground, but that would be rare.]

An identification band attached to the dead whooper shows that it hatched and was banded in 1983, making it a very old bird. Biologists say most whooping cranes do not live much beyond 20 years in the wild.

Tom Stehn, the whooping crane coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, is familiar with the bird found near Almont. He called it a productive male. “It first nested in 1986 and brought its first chick to Aransas in 1987. In 21 years of nesting, it successfully brought seven chicks to Aransas. It was still a very productive male, having brought six chicks to Aransas out of the last 10 years.”

The dead bird and its mate both were equipped with radio collars in the early 1980s, recalled Stehn. “We called them the ‘radio pair.’ Not only did they produce seven offspring, but they provided us with a lot of valuable information about whooping crane movements.”

Stehn recalled another memory of the whooper found near Almont. “It was involved in the fastest whooper migration across the United States ever recorded,” he related. In the fall of 1983, this bird and its parents were in a flock of six whooping cranes that landed near Pierre, S.D. on Nov. 8. They were found on the Texas coast just three days later. Stehn explained, “They were pushed by strong tailwinds and a low pressure system on their way south and must have flown pretty much non-stop except maybe for some brief stops. The bad weather connected with the low pressure system kept the tracking crew from staying with them, and basically the trackers caught up to the birds in Texas.”

There are 236 whooping cranes in the wild. Each spring, they migrate from their wintering grounds on the Gulf Coast of Texas to their breeding grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada. That trip takes most of them through North Dakota, and state residents typically report several sightings each spring, and again in the fall on their return.

Stehn said North Dakota residents could see whoopers anytime for the next month or more. “Most of the flock has left Aransas, and we just had our first sighting in Canada,” he noted. “There were 21 or 22 birds seen in Nebraska last weekend, and North Dakota should be just a day or two away for those birds.”

Anyone seeing a whooping crane is asked to contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at (701)387-4397 or the N.D. Game and Fish Department at (701)328-6300.
America’s tallest birds, adult whooping cranes are about five feet tall, with a wingspan of seven feet. They are white with black wingtips and red markings on their head. Whoopers frequently accompany the smaller sandhill cranes, especially during migration. They feed on crabs, crayfish, frogs and other small aquatic life, as well as plants.

The whooping crane population dropped to an estimated 21 birds in the 1940s, and they were listed as “endangered” in 1970.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

For more information, contact Ken Torkelson at 701-355-8528.


Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure made possible by the
Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).