Biologists with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources caution hunters to be vigilant for the possibility of whooping cranes being present in areas being hunted.
The whooping crane is a federally endangered bird that may not be hunted. The Eastern Population of whooping cranes migrates between Wisconsin and Florida with their main migration corridor taking them through west-central Kentucky. There are approximately 100 whooping cranes in this population.
Whooping cranes are solid white with black wingtips. They have a red crown. Adults may have a wingspan of 7 ½ feet and stand up to 5 feet tall on stilted legs. Juvenile birds are similar to the adults, but will have patches of brown or tan mixed in with the white. Both adult and juvenile whooping cranes are currently present in Kentucky.
Whooping cranes are similar in silhouette to sandhill cranes. However, sandhill cranes have gray bodies and are smaller than whooping cranes. Whooping cranes may associate with sandhill cranes so caution must be used while hunting sandhill cranes. Kentucky's sandhill crane hunting season begins Dec. 13 and continues through Jan. 11, or until 400 sandhill cranes have been taken.
Hunters should be aware of other large-bodied birds which may appear similar to whooping cranes.
Large flocks of snow geese may be present in western areas of Kentucky and small groups may be present statewide. Snow geese are white-bodied birds with black wingtips. They do not have stilted legs.
Tundra swans and trumpeter swans have also been reported across Kentucky. Swans are large, solid white birds with wingspans approaching 7 feet. They do not have stilted legs. Swans may not be hunted in Kentucky.
Hunters should always be sure of their target before firing a gun, regardless of the species being hunted.