Project Passenger Pigeon

Lessons from the Past for a Sustainable Future

craneWhooping Crane

SpacePatchesPatches commissioned by the Russian Space Agency displaying the crane, worn by two cosmonauts and one astronaut on a joint visit to the Russian space station.


Species Declining, Threatened, Gone, Saved

Cranes of The World: Conservation Challenges and Successes

15 Species: 11 Threatened or Endangered

Of the world’s 15 species of cranes, 11 are considered threatened or endangered. Among these, the rarest crane is the Whooping Crane (Grus americana) found only in North America. The current population stands at approximately 600 individuals including both wild and captive birds. Water is the most pressing issue for the population nesting in Canada and wintering along the Gulf Coast of Texas. The most abundant species is the Sandhill (G. canadensis) Crane, another North American native. This is a species of least concern with numbers estimated between 650 and 800,000 individuals. But even this adaptive bird faces challenges as three non-migratory subspecies, Florida, Cuban and Mississippi Sandhill Cranes, are considered endangered.

African, non-migratory species include the Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum), Black Crowned Crane (B. pavonina), Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradisea) and Wattled Crane (Bugeranus carunculata). All four of these species face threats from power line collisions, ecosystem loss and degradation. In addition, the two populations of Crowned Cranes face increasing pressure from the illegal pet trade, which has caused an 80% decline in the wild population throughout their range since the 1990s. Breeding success of the Wattled Crane has been impacted by the hydroelectric dams on rivers which feed the floodplains where they nest. Disruption of the natural flood cycles compromises the ability of this species to nest at peak flood stage and find needed food for their chicks as the flood waters recede. Blue Cranes in South Africa are challenged by emerging mining interests and illegal trade.

Australia is home to the Brolga (G. rubicunda), whose population is currently considered stable.

Europe and Asia provide homes to the remaining eight species of Cranes, all belonging to the genus Grus with the exception of Anthropoides virgo, the Demoiselle Crane. The third most populist species is the smallest of all the cranes, standing barely 3 feet tall. This demure crane migrates through the Himalayas and over countries where it is threatened by unregulated hunting. The Eurasian Crane (G. grus) is a species of least concern with population estimates second only to the Sandhill Cranes of North America. Now numbering around 420,000, this species faces challenges from global climate change and light pollution - both thought to affect seasonal migration patterns. Red-crowned (G. japonensis), White-naped (G. vipio), Black-necked (G. nigricollis), and Hooded (G. monacha) Cranes are primarily threatened by habitat loss either through conversion to agricultural use or development. The Siberian Crane (G. leucogeranos) is considered the most critically endangered of all the species. This highly aquatic species is threatened by global climate change and loss of safe places to nest, winter and find respite during the longest migration of all the cranes. Threats also arise from agricultural development, wetland drainage, oil exploration, hunting, and water development projects. G. antigone, the Sarus Crane, is a non-migratory species found in India and Vietnam. The survival of this species depends on the continued value of the wetland ecosystems to communities within the Sarus’ range.

Darcy Love is the Visitor Program Manager at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin. All of the world’s 15 crane species can be observed here.

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