Back from the Brink of Extinction: The Princeton Whooping Crane Festival

Whooping Crane
Photograph by Barbara Wilson

There was a time in the 1940s that there remained only 15 of one of world’s most beautiful and majestic birds. Since then, a number of organizations have been working together to bring the endangered whooping cranes back from the brink of extinction.

Now there are over 600 whooping cranes worldwide, with central Wisconsin serving as the summer home for one of only two wild populations in the world. Part of this population spends much of its summer in the White River Marsh Wildlife Area, only four miles outside of Princeton. Birders and those fascinated by these grand white cranes flocked to the area to see them in the fields along the marsh area, as well as to enjoy the day in nearby communities.

The birds became such a draw that the annual Whooping Crane Festival was moved to Princeton in 2014 to bring even more birding and wildlife enthusiasts to the area. The festival is moving into its fifth year in 2018 under the collaboration of the Princeton Chamber of Commerce, Princeton Whooping Crane Festival Committee, and Operation Migration.

The 2018 festival will take place on Saturday, September 8, with pre- and post-festival activities and tours taking place over the course of the weekend. The festival will primarily be on Saturday at Princeton Public School.

Photograph by Barbara Wilson

Beginning at 8:00 a.m., festivalgoers can enjoy a mouthwatering pancake breakfast prepared by the school’s food service class. Throughout the day, a diverse array of activities, both indoors and outdoors, will be available through 4:00 p.m. The festival features multiple opportunities for families and other visitors to learn about wildlife and conservation through professional speakers, workshops, field trips, children’s entertainers and activities, and so much more. The sale of food and a gymnasium filled with area artisans, crafters, and information booths are also highlights of this festival—perfect for all ages.

As Operation Migration’s Director of Development, Heather Ray points out the festival is the area’s way of raising awareness of the importance of not only saving these birds, but also their habitats. “The whooping crane is the poster child of endangered species,” Heather says. “If we save them, we save their habitat, and a healthy marsh is home to many more species.”

For more information about this festival, please visit or call the Princeton Chamber at (920) 295-3877, or visit or call (800) 675-2618.

Alyssa Paulsen is the Marketing & Project Coordinator of the Green Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, and also serves on the Princeton Whooping Crane Festival Committee.