Scientific Name: Grus americana
Range: The whooping crane once ranged from the Arctic south to Mexico and from Utah to the East Coast. Due to hunting and habitat loss, today there are only three wild crane populations—a self-sustaining population that nests in Canada and winters in Texas, a population that migrates between Wisconsin and Florida, and a non-migratory Florida population
Conservation Status: The whooping crane was protected as one of the first endangered species in 1967.
Remaining Population: There are 437 wild whooping cranes and 162 cranes in captivity. Due to recovery efforts, the population has grown from only 54 birds in 1967 when the species was protected to 599 birds today.
Threat: The Proposed Keystone XL Pipeline threatens the whooping crane along its migratory route from Canada to Texas. The tar sands oil pipeline threatens the crane with oil spills, toxic waste ponds, and collisions and electrocutions from power lines for the pumping stations.
Whooping cranes, North America’s tallest birds, are nearly five feet tall and live for more than 30 years. The crane’s common name comes from the “whooping” call it makes with its mate. Whooping crane pairs participate in “unison calling”—a kind of bird duet in which the whooping crane couple make a series of complex calls, which they coordinate with each other. They also dance—bow, jump, run and flap their wings.
Due to Endangered Species Act protection, these majestic red-crowned birds made an amazing comeback from the brink of extinction when only 15 birds survived in 1940. Following decades of effort, whooping cranes are now on the path to recovery, but this success could be erased by the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.
Threats Faced From Fossil Fuel Exploitation
TransCanada’s proposed 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline would carry crude tar sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. This pipeline would follow the migration of the endangered whooping crane for nearly its entire route, threatening the whooping crane in its nesting grounds in Canada and all along its migratory flyway. The pipeline threatens the crane with toxic tailings ponds and potential oil spills.
Furthermore, the Keystone XL pipeline requires the installation of power lines to supply power to pumping stations. The power lines pose a serious threat from collision and electrocution to whooping cranes and other migratory birds. Power lines are already the largest known cause of death for migrating whooping cranes.
Yet, the fossil fuel industry is intent on building the disastrous pipeline as soon as possible, and their allies in Congress are pushing the project forward without adequate environmental review. The companion bills passed by Congress in late December extending payroll tax cuts and jobless benefits included a rider forcing President Obama to make a decision on the pipeline’s approval by February 21. The pipeline would be a disaster not only for the whooping crane, but also for other endangered species, rivers, and the drinking water of millions of Americans.