The whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America and migrates each year from central Canada to the Texas coast for the winter.  By the mid-1940s, only 15 whooping cranes existed in the wild.  While still categorized as an endangered species, roughly 600 birds exist today due to the continued advocacy of conservation heroes across the United States. (757 birds exist according to the International Crane Foundation).

BRW Architects was asked to provide design and visualization services for a new facility to strengthen the conservation efforts here in North Texas.  The design team began with a process of research and building our understanding of the unique requirements of these beautiful, endangered birds.  Along with experts from the Dallas Zoo, our team developed the program and strategies for constructing a long-term breeding complex that provides a safe and controlled venue for successful breeding and growth of young hatchlings.  There are many complex issues and needs to promote a positive habitat for breeding these large birds in captivity.  The facility included a drive approach, parking area, loading and delivery zone, fenced areas or aviary that provide the habitats for breeding and nesting, and a support structure that houses offices, lab and storage for food and supplies.

Nesting:   The Whooping Cranes nest in potholes dominated by bulrushes and containing other aquatic plants such as cattails, sedge, and musk grass.  Pairs choose nest sites in shallow water of marshes, sloughs, or lake margins, frequently on small islands.  The male and female build the nest together by piling up and trampling vegetation such as bulrushes, sedges, and cattails.

Behavior:  Whooping Cranes are monogamous, forming pairs at the age of 2 or 3 years and mating for life.  Courting pairs perform an elaborate, energetic dance display in which they leap, flap their wings, toss their heads, and even fling feathers and grass.  Whooping Cranes live and travel alone, in pairs, as families, or in small flocks of up to 7 birds, and sometimes flock with Sandhill Cranes.  They learn migration routes and nesting locations from other cranes (or from researchers in ultralight aircraft, as part of reintroduction efforts)

Conservation:  The Whooping Crane is listed as federally endangered and is on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List, which lists bird species that are at risk of becoming threatened or endangered without conservation action.  Factors threatening all these small populations include powerline collisions, severe weather on the Gulf Coast, contaminant spills from barges, and occasional shooting by hunters mistaking them for Sandhill Cranes, or intentionally by vandals. Habitat management involves water control, restrictions on encroachment of trees and human disturbance, and maintenance of agricultural fields as food sources. The species’ future depends on continued intensive conservation.