Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Whooping Crane - Grus americana
GRUIDAE Members:
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General Comments The Whooping Crane is one of the rarest birds in North America and has been listed as Endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 1967. (In the Eastern states, including NC, it is listed as Endangered, but as an Experimental Population, Non-Essential; the "E*" in the U.S. Status below signifies this distinction.) Small populations breed only in a small area of northern Canada, and the entire population winters (natively, at least) only along the central coast to TX. In the 2000's, a reintroduced population was established in the Great Lakes area, and birds were taught to follow light aircraft to a wintering area in FL, where they presumably wintered many decades ago. A few of these birds from the "translocated" population have landed in NC, first in the mountains in Macon and a few years later closer to the coast in Jones. Though the species likely occurred in NC several centuries ago, there seems to be no certain documentation of this. However, the NC BRC decided that the species merited a place on the state bird list, in some category. A vote was taken in late 2014, and the verdict placed the species on the relatively new Not Established List, as the birds seen and photographed in the state are not yet from established (and "countable") populations [Chat 79:14 link] Because the species is Federally Endangered, the Fish and Wildlife Service wants observers to stay a good distance away from such cranes, to avoid flushing them and also to make sure they are not imprinted on humans.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Not Established List
State Status
U.S. Status E*
State Rank SA
Global Rank G1
Coastal Plain Accidental migrant/winter visitor, at least currently. Presumed to have wintered in parts of the region, maybe coastally, as late at the 19th Century. From the Whooping Crane operation migration website: "... The last known whooping crane in NC was shot in April 1875 near Wilmington...." The only definite recent record appears to be of 3 individuals photographed in an area of large croplands in Jones, where they overwintered in 2004-2005, and were last seen on 30 Mar 2005 [Chat 69:113-114 link].
Piedmont Accidental migrant. Two known records: the flock of 3 that left Jones early in the morning of 30 Mar 2005 were followed by car and were seen around noon flying over Spring Hope (Nash) on that same day. Two were seen near High Rock Lake for two days in mid-May 2005 [Chat 69:113-114 link].
Mountains Accidental migrant. A flock of 8 birds was seen and photographed on the ground near the Little Tennessee River north of Franklin (Macon) from 1-3 Apr 2004 [Chat 68:119 link]. These birds were also from the re-introduced "Eastern" population.
Finding Tips The species is too rare -- with only a few recent records -- to offer finding tips.
1/2 *
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-09], LeGrand[2018-02-02], LeGrand[2018-02-01]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.