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Location Canada, Northwest Territories
Central coordinates 113o 15.06' West  60o 19.86' North
IBA criteria A1, A4i
Area 910,000 ha
Altitude 200 - 300m
Year of IBA assessment 2008

Bird Studies Canada/Nature Canada

Site description The Whooping Crane nesting area and summer range is located approximately 75 km west of Fort Smith, Northwest Territories. The site, which straddles the border between the Northwest Territories and Alberta, encompasses the northeastern portion of Wood Buffalo National Park and adjacent wetlands. Habitats within this area are poorly drained and interspersed with numerous shallow water wetlands, most with marl bottoms. The wetlands are generally separated by narrow ridges that support black spruce, tamarack, willows, and dwarf birch. Within the wetlands, the dominant species are bulrush, sedge, and cattail. The large upland areas between the marsh complexes support coniferous and mixed forests dominated by white spruce, black spruce and aspen.

Key Biodiversity As implied by the site's name, this area supports the entire breeding population of migratory Whooping Cranes during the late spring and summer months. About 178 Whooping Cranes, a species which has been identified as globally endangered, have been recorded here during recent surveys. There are currently about 100 additional Whooping Cranes in captive breeding programs in Canada and the U.S., and a small introduced population in Florida.

The migratory Whooping Crane population has increased from 15 birds in 1941 to the current population of about 178 (a non-migratory population in Louisiana was extirpated in the late 1940s). The birds winter approximately 4,000 km south of their breeding range on the coast of Texas, mainly in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

In addition to Whooping Cranes, the area supports three to four pairs of the nationally endangered anatum ssp. of the Peregrine Falcon. A typical community of boreal forest and wetland birds is also present including Yellow-rumped Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Swamp Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, and Bald Eagle, among others.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Whooping Crane Grus americana breeding  1997  178 individuals  A1, A4i  Endangered 

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Whooping Crane Summer Range Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar) 1,689,500 protected area overlaps with site 870,000  
Wood Buffalo National Park 4,539,023 protected area overlaps with site 620,000  
Wood Buffalo National Park World Heritage Site 4,480,000 protected area contains site 910,000  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Forest Boreal coniferous forest; Boreal mixed woods  -
Wetlands (inland) Freshwater marshes/swamps  -

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
nature conservation and research major

Further web sources of information 

Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) species/site profile. This site has been identified as an AZE due to it containing a Critically Endangered or Endangered species with a limited range.

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Whooping Crane Nesting Area and Summer Range. Downloaded from on 28/10/2016

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife