Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center

What Do Whooping Cranes Do in the Winter?

An adult whooping crane begins to carefully extract a buried blue crab at Aransas NWR in late January 2014. (Liz Smith)

By Elizabeth H. Smith, Ph.D.

Of only fifteen species of cranes in the world, just two species occur in the western hemisphere: the sandhill crane, which is the most numerous, and the whooping crane, the rarest. Why have the two North American species experienced such different recent fates? We know that the sandhill crane is perhaps the oldest crane species on earth. Their bones have been immortalized in stone for six million years. Secondly, this crane has evolved characteristics beneficial to prairie life and has adapted to farming practices that have replaced the historic native prairies of North America.

However, the whooping crane, who is not even a close relative of the sandhill crane, is decidedly dependent on wetlands, both freshwater and coastal fringe habitats. As conversion of prairie potholes to agricultural lands progressed across the continent, habitat for whooping crane was lost and resulted, along with hunting pressure, in a significant decline for the species.

Seeds of Wisdom: Dirty Snow

Fall tillage practices expose soils to winter’s harsh elements, creating ideal conditions for soil erosion. (Rick Bohn)

This essay begins a series of pieces by Peter Carrels called “Seeds of Wisdom,” with the goal of providing environmental and other insight by farmers and ranchers on what they do: farming and ranching.

By Peter Carrels

Jim Kopriva and his son Lee ranch in the hill country of northeastern South Dakota, a unique area geomorphologists call the “Coteau des Prairies,” or prairie hills. This hummocky topography rises sharply above the level James River lowlands to the west and the Minnesota and Red River lowlands to the east. Scientists say that although glacial ice sheets overrode this highlands region, its stature was sufficiently influential to deflect the main masses of ice, creating calmer landscapes flanking the coteau. Up on the hills, where the Koprivas run four hundred head of Black Angus cattle on almost three thousand acres of grass and prairie, the land is decently fertile, but it also contains enough rock and roll to have dissuaded grain farming until recently.

Immigration in Nebraska

Subscribe to Prairie Fire today.
Subscribe to Prairie Fire - The Progressive Voice of the Great Plains RSS