Every bird found in North America on a single poster. How awesome is this!?
Aransas Wildlife Refuge biologist Tom Stehn conducted Whooping Crane census flights for 29 years at Aransas during which he tried to find every crane. When Tom Stehn retired from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011, the agency changed from doing a weekly Whooping Crane census to conducting a survey that takes place for approximately one week each December.
Unlike a census, a survey incorporates a technique called “distance sampling” where not every crane is counted but estimates of the cranes not seen are based on how far observed cranes were from the aircraft when sighted. Unfortunately, the margin of error for this survey is quite large, equaling plus or minus 39 cranes for the estimated wild flock of 338 during the winter of 2016.
In January 2017, Dr. Bruce Pugesek, Montana State University and Tom Stehn, published an article in the Proceedings of the 13th North American Crane Workshop entitled “THE UTILITY OF CENSUS OR SURVEY FOR MONITORING WHOOPING CRANES IN WINTER”. The article compares the survey and census methods of counting Whooping Cranes.
The abstract is provided below. To download the entire text of the paper, click this link: WHOOPING-CRANE-CENSUS-OR-SURVEY
THE UTILITY OF CENSUS OR SURVEY FOR MONITORING WHOOPING CRANES IN WINTER
BRUCE H. PUGESEK, 1 Department of Ecology, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT 59717, USA
THOMAS V. STEHN, 1613 South Saunders Street, Aransas Pass, TX 78336, USA
Abstract: We discuss recent changes in the monitoring program for endangered whooping cranes (Grus americana) on their winter habitat in Texas. A 61-year annual census was replaced in the winter of 2011-2012 with a distance sampling procedure. Justification for the change was, in part, based on criticism of the previous methods of counting cranes and the assessment of crane mortality on the wintering grounds. We argue here that the arguments, methods, and analyses employed to discount the census procedure and mortality estimates were applied incorrectly or with flawed logic and assertions. We provide analysis and logical arguments to show that the census and mortality counts were scientifically valid estimates. The distance sampling protocol currently employed does not provide the accuracy needed to show small annual changes in population size, nor does it provide any estimate of winter mortality. Implications of the relative merit of census and mortality counts versus distance sampling surveys are discussed in the context of management of the whooping crane.
Monday was predicted to be a good migration day so I got to the St. Marks blind a little before 9 am.
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When you become a NEW monthly donor, OR increase your current monthly donation amount, you will receive a special hand-folded origami crane made by Mako Pellerin.
Mako has very graciously offered to create a limited number of beaded hanging origami cranes made from the paper used to create last year’s GIANT origami crane, which greeted Whooping Crane Festival attendees in Wisconsin.Students from the Princeton School – along with Mako, very carefully folded the origami crane pictured above, and which boasted a wingspan of more than 30 feet and stood close to 10 feet tall!
Mako saved some of the paper from that special crane to create these smaller origami “off-spring” cranes for you!
In Japanese culture, the crane is a mystical creature and is believed to live for a thousand years. Cranes represent good fortune and longevity and are referred to as the “bird of happiness.”
We hope this very special origami crane will bring you all of these qualities… In addition to your special origami crane, we’ll also send you an instruction sheet for folding more origami cranes!
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In 2009 researchers began placing satellite transmitters on Whooping Cranes in the Wood Buffalo/Aransas population. In total, 68 Whoopers were tracked and followed.
Since 2012, a partnership including the Crane Trust, the USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center and the Platte River Recovery and Implementation Program initiated a research project nicknamed the ‘Stopover Project,’ because it was designed to study the habitat used by Whooping Cranes during their migrations.
The goal of the international, multi-partner project was to track the wild Whoopers and in doing so learn what was needed to further their conservation along their migratory flyway.
The results of the study can be found here.
On April 10th, the people of Wisconsin will vote on whether or not to allow Sandhill cranes to be hunted. That question has been asked before and, although it has not been approved in the past, the pressure to add them to the list of game species grows as their numbers increase.
It wasn’t long ago that most people thought Sandhill cranes were doomed to extinction but now they are the most common wildlife we see around White River Marsh. A generation earlier, that story of remarkable recovery is also true of Canada geese. When I was young, a honking chevron high overhead foretold of spring or the coming of snow and was rare enough to cause folks to pause and point.
There are an estimated seven million Canada geese in North America and the birds we once thought of as legends of the fall are now referred to as flying carp. That transition from magnificent wildlife to golf course pest was driven by numbers. A pair of geese on a local pond is an inspiring sight but 500 on the same pond will foul the habitat, disturb the peace, and pollute the water. We reintroduced Canada geese when the numbers were low, but geese are like cranes – they learn migration behavior from their parents. We also built more parks and golf courses, and pushed out most of their natural predators like foxes, wolves, and coyotes. We tipped nature out of balance and left it unchecked, and now many people hate geese.
The North American population of Sandhill cranes is up to 700 thousand and growing. Already they are referred to as “reverse seed drills” as some farmers report how adept they are at walking up the rows of freshly planted corn, pulling out the kernels as efficiently as the planters can deposit them. I worry that as the numbers grow, these icons of wildness and their story of recovery from the edge of extinction will begin to tarnish and a once magnificent creature will turn into a pest in the eyes of the public.
Still, their numbers are not nearly high enough yet and they are already hunted in 17 US states. Sandhill and Whooping cranes use the same habitat and the chance of misidentifying them is real. Even for experts, a white crane backlit against an even whiter sky can look grey. The vast majority of hunters are wildlife enthusiasts, respectful of the rules, and the ethics of hunting. But, even if there is no misidentification, a Sandhill shot at a popular roosting site will deter a Whooping crane from ever returning to that once safe haven. There are precious few roosting sites for cranes now. Wetlands represent only a small fraction of the habitat in Wisconsin, and mass disturbance will increase that shortage.
There is a good argument for allowing the hunting of many species and, to be perfectly honest, the hunting organizations pay for a good portion of the conservation work done in Wisconsin. Groups like Ducks Unlimited protect habitat, plus funds from hunting licence fees and taxes on ammunition go to support conservation. Hunting can help restore the balance when natural predators are removed and populations of prey species explode. Eventually the hunting of Sandhill cranes might be necessary but we are not there yet. There are other ways to mitigate crop losses. And, with only a hundred Whooping cranes in the eastern flock, accidental shooting or disturbance could be the difference between survival and failure.
For more details on the story check:
The scientific name of the Whooping Crane is Grus americana but I always thought it should be Grus problematica. One would think it would be simple to switch from the aircraft-led migration method that required months of training to a parent-reared method where nature does much of the work, but that’s not the case. I will try to explain some of the complications but I warn you, it will take some time and the results will likely provide more questions than answers.
The Whooping Crane Recovery Team must balance the allocation of the available eggs between the Louisiana Non-Migratory Population (LNMP) and the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP). To do that they have proposed that the eggs produced in the captive breeding centers should go to Louisiana and the EMP should use eggs that can be collected from the nesting birds at Necedah NWR.
For the past three years, the biologist at Necedah has been experimenting with a forced re-nesting study. The early nests produced at Necedah every spring seem to coincide with peak of black fly season so he has been collecting all the eggs from half the nests and leaving the other half as his control group. Pairs that lose their eggs early in the incubation cycle will often re-nest, and that generally occurs after the short black fly season has run its course. Those later nests are generally more successful. In fact, twenty-three chicks were hatched last year at Necedah. There is a downside to this practice, as it requires intensive management. A full time team must monitor the cranes and the air temperatures to estimate when the black flies will emerge and when to collect the eggs. Long-term, intensive management is not one of the characteristics of a self-sustaining flock. Still, the Refuge is willing to continue for now as it provides eggs that will hatch into chicks that we can then release into the Wisconsin Rectangle. A few nests just outside of Necedah are also affected by the black fly issue. More eggs could be collected if they included those nests; however, they have to guesstimate when to limit collection lest they overwhelm the captive breeding centers with eggs.
Nest abandonment happens quickly when the black flies are thickest. The eggs are collected over a short time period and are transferred to ICF, and maybe eventually to Patuxent in Maryland. That means the captive centers are inundated with eggs around the same time that their captive birds are producing, resulting in a heavy workload.
That same principle of multiple clutches is also applied to the captive breeding cranes. Eggs collected from them are hatched in incubators, prompting them to produce more. Except, of course, if they have to stop the production and allow the adults to raise young chicks for the parent-reared (PR) project. That balancing act limits the breeding centers to a combined production to around fifteen parent-reared birds per breeding season.
There is also a Canadian Whooping Crane breeding center at the Calgary Zoo in Alberta. Last year, they produced three parent-reared chicks but could not get them into the U.S. in time for a release in Wisconsin. Shipping live animals across the Canada/U.S. border usually involves livestock transported in trucks or on trains. There are only a few ports of entry at airports that can deal with animals, including endangered birds. The only commercial aircraft flying out of Calgary to the nearest of those entry points does not have cargo doors large enough to handle the crates in which the cranes are transported. Instead, they were flown in a larger aircraft to Texas, which is much closer to Louisiana, so they were added to that release program.
All of this has to do with eggs collected from the wild or produced in captivity. And, just like every year, that’s a guessing game played by professionals with years of experience with captive breeding birds. But not all of the eggs hatch. The formula for calculating the number of eggs that will hatch into chicks is roughly 75 percent, and 75 percent of those that hatch will survive to be released. That calculation has been simplified and updated recently to 59 percent of fertile eggs will result in releasable chicks.
To all of this balancing, calculating, estimating and guessing, WCEP has added another variable. We also hope to produce a small group of costume-reared whooping cranes in 2017. If approved, and if there are enough eggs available, and if the captive centers can handle the workload, we may be moving six to eight costume-reared chicks to the White River Marsh pen facilities early in the season. Our first objective is to get more birds into the Wisconsin Rectangle but we also want to experiment with improvements to the PR release method.
One of the issues that concerned WCEP last year was the inability or reluctance of some of the PR birds to fly when they were first released. That is not surprising, considering that Whooping Cranes fledge at 80 to 100 days of age. For the parent-reared birds, that happens when they are in captivity where they can’t get airborne for more than a few yards. The costume-reared cranes we will raise at White River Marsh will spend the summer learning to fly at the appropriate time. This fall when both the costume-reared and parent-reared cranes are released, we will be able to compare the difference.
Philopatry, or their propensity to return to where they were introduced, is also a problem. Birds that are released late in the fall may not form an affiliation to the area as wild cranes would to their natal area. Costume-reared birds at White River Marsh will spend the entire summer there and, during that time, we expect they will have opportunities to interact with some of the adults that use the marsh. Although it will be a small sample size, by the spring of 2018 we should be able to compare the behavior of both groups.
Our job is to replicate the natural life cycle of these birds as best we can. Ideally, the cranes we reintroduce would spend as much time as possible in the wild, so the plan is to transport them to White River Marsh at the earliest shippable age, around 35 days. Our pen facilities include a dry pen that is fully enclosed and a visually open, wet pen where the cranes can roost at night. If this all works out, we will enlarge that pen to include not only the water but also more uplands. We will seed the pen with natural foods like insects and crayfish so the chicks learn to forage as they would in the wild.
Ideally, chicks would spend the summer with their parents and maybe in the future we could arrange for some adult role models during that time. That would be about as close as we could come to providing a natural environment for reintroduced cranes but it wouldn’t be easy. We may be able to use captive adults that are too old to reproduce, yet still have nurturing skills – if they exist. And what do we do with them over the winter while the chicks they raised head south? And how many chicks could a pair raise? Two would be the maximum in the wild but that means we’d need lots of non-reproductive adults to act as alloparents, and many pens to get a reasonable sample size. Still, it would be an interesting learning opportunity with much to gain if it worked.
As I mentioned earlier, twenty-three chicks were hatched at Necedah last year and I am sure you all know that none of those birds survived. With intense nest management, the black fly problem has been circumvented, at least for now, but we don’t yet know what is causing the post-hatch mortality. This year, OM’s ecologist, Jeff Fox, will be working with Refuge Biologist, Brad Strobel, and Professor Misty McPhee from UW Oshkosh to find out what is happening to those chicks during that vulnerable stage before they can fly. The new study, Survival and Cause-Specific Mortality of Whooping Crane Chicks on the Necedah NWR has been approved for this year. According to Pete Fasbender, Field Supervisor for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Twin Cities Ecological Services Field Office, “There is no higher priority for our eastern U.S. reintroduction project to achieve success than determining the cause of Whooping Crane chick mortality in their first 90 days of life.”
The Whooping Crane Recovery Team recently conducted a population viability analysis (PVA) that included all the Whooping Crane populations. For the EMP it was determined that only a moderate reduction of mortality from egg to fledge, from 92-96% to ~ 85% is needed to stabilize the population and eventually reach our self-sustaining goal.
We have two pairs that frequent the White River Marsh that have now reached breeding age. We hope to relocate our camera, getting it close enough to monitor at least one pair during their incubation and, with luck, be able to track them as they introduce their chick to the surrounding habitat. Remember that “the beast” was so named for a reason, it will not be easy relocating it deep in the marsh, or guessing where the birds will nest before that process begins. But, if we are successful, it will be the first time in history that nesting and nurturing Whooping Cranes will be captured on streaming video and broadcast live.
If all of this comes to fruition, it will be a busy season. We will be monitoring nesting birds in the spring and attempting to capture one pair on camera. Depending on egg availability/survival, we will be caring for costume-reared chicks at the White River Marsh pen and assisting with the releases and intensive monitoring in the fall, while trying to determine what is causing the loss of all those chicks at Necedah. Plus, we have our ongoing job of capturing the growing list of birds that must have non-functioning transmitters replaced.
This is just an outline of the plan and a lot of details have yet to be finalized within the various WCEP teams. Each project has pros, cons, and a hundred variables. If we can sort them out ourselves, we will keep you posted.
To my knowledge, this is the first time this now almost 6 yr old crane has returned to the marsh. His typical territory is southwest in Marquette County.
In the EMP update posted Friday it was mentioned there was one Whooping crane who had returned to Wisconsin. I’ve just checked the database and unless there is another, it would appear the one returnee is male #18-11 in Dodge County.
The timing of key life events (phenology) is a critical part of nearly every important ecological relationship. Nowhere is this more evident than in the annual cycle of migratory birds: bird migration, breeding, and nesting are timed every spring to coincide with the peak availability of critical food sources in a delicate synchronization that occurs across large latitudinal gradients and diverse habitats. This synchrony between birds and key resources helps to ensure that birds survive migration and successfully reproduce.
Of the many ways in which climate change affects wildlife, changes in phenology is one of the most ubiquitous. As temperatures warm and precipitation patterns change, many species of plants, insects, and birds have advanced important phenological events. Plants are putting out leaves earlier, insects are emerging sooner, and many birds have advanced the timing of their migration. These changes have been observed for many decades and across different habitat types, although impacts vary between species.
While the phenology of birds, their habitats, and their food sources are all generally advancing in response to climate change, they are not always doing so at the same rate. Birds and the species with which they interact (including their food sources, predators, and competitors) are not equally responsive to warming; climate change therefore has the potential to desynchronize these critical relationships. Generally, studies have found that species higher in the food chain (like birds) have advanced their phenology less than species lower in the food chain (like plants and insects). The great tit, for example, is a European songbird that relies on a short burst of caterpillar availability each spring to feed its young. Over the past decades, temperatures have warmed and caterpillars are consistently emerging earlier. The great tit, however, has not advanced its egg-laying date as fast as the caterpillar has advanced its peak biomass date, and so many young nestlings are born too late to benefit from the short caterpillar supply. This type of phenological mismatch could have serious demographic consequenc es for migratory birds, and could ultimately cause a decline in population levels (although many questions remain about the magnitude and ultimate impact of these changes). As with many aspects of climate change, phenological shifts will not be universally negative for all species: some species, for example, may benefit from an extended breeding season.
Developing effective management responses to phenological shifts is challenging, because managers have no direct control over phenology. Yet habitat managers can make modifications to maintain diverse habitats in the face of phenological changes. For example, by taking management actions that favor a range of plants with different phenologies, managers can “hedge their bets” and prepare for multiple potential responses to change. Maintaining diverse yet connected habitats can help migratory birds take advantage of different resources and phenological responses.
To help inform managers about potential changes to phenology as a result of climate change, the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center (NCCWSC) and the Department of the Interior Climate Science Centers support research on the impacts of climate change to phenology, including projects on phenological shifts in Arctic ecosystems; the use of citizen science data to assess the vulnerability of different songbirds to phenological mismatch; examining the potential for phenological mismatch in shorebirds; and providing a scientific synthesis of phenological shifts in northeastern coastal wildlife.
Citizen scientists and biologists can help track the phenology of birds by signing up to participate in the USGS-led Nature’s Notebook, which uses phenological information to help improve our understanding of how variations in climate affect the natural world, including birds. You can access Nature’s Notebook here.
As part of a broader effort to develop a management-relevant research program on climate change and migratory birds, NCCWSC is working directly with wildlife and land management agencies (including federal and state agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations that manage important bird habitat) to identify important research questions. Climate-induced changes in phenology have important implications for a range of management activities, including habitat and vegetation management, invasive species control, and prioritization of species based on differing vulnerability to climate impacts. Ultimately, management strategies informed by phenological research can provide for more effective migratory bird conservation in a changing climate.
Madeleine Rubenstein is a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center. Her research examines how climate change affects migratory birds, with an emphasis on understanding and responding to the information needs of wildlife and habitat managers.
Below is the most recent update for the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes. During February, most Whooping Cranes began migration and at least one has returned to Wisconsin. A huge thank-you to the staff of Operation Migration, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Natural Resources, the International Crane Foundation, and all of the volunteers who help us keep track of the cranes throughout the year. We appreciate your contribution to the recovery of the whooping crane eastern migratory population.
The current maximum population size is 101 (46 F, 53 M, 2 U). As of 1 March, Whooping Cranes have been confirmed in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Wisconsin. Many birds have begun moving north by the end of February, so the distribution is changing daily. See map below.
2015 Wild Chicks
W10_15 and 24_13 were in Greene County, IN during February
W18_15 and male 16-04 were reported in Knox Co, IN during February.
Parent-Reared 2015 Cohort
14_15 (F) left Wheeler NWR and is currently in Jasper Co, Indiana.
20_15 (M) spent all of February in Saint Martin Parish, LA.
DAR 2015 Cohort
61_15 (F), 63_15 (M), and 67_15 (F) continue to be in Randolph Co, IL.
65_15 (F) and 27_14 (F) have left Wheeler NWR, and have begun migration.
66_15 (F) and 68_15 (F) began migration north and were both reported in LaPorte County, IN.
UL 2015 Cohort
2_15 (F) left on migration and was in Jasper Co, IN in the same area as 71_16 by the end of February.
6_15 (F) and 38-09 left Wheeler NWR, and are currently in Greene Co, IN.
8_15 (F) spent all of February in Sumter Co, AL.
10_15 (F), and 11_15 (M) left Wheeler NWR, AL and began migration north. They were seen in Lasalle Co, IL by the end of February with one other Whooping Crane who could not be identified.
Parent-Reared 2016 Cohort
29_16 (M) and 39_16 (M) spent all of February in Dyer Co, TN.
30_16 (M) is with 4_12 and 3_14 in Miller Co, GA.
31_16 (M) and 38_16 (M) spent February in Poinsett Co, Arkansas.
33_16 (F) spent all of February in Citrus Co, FL.
69_16 (F) left Wheeler NWR presumably with 1_11 and 59_13, and is currently in northwestern Indiana.
70_16 (M) is still at Wheeler NWR, AL.
71_16 (F) left Jackson Co, IN and headed north to Jasper Co, IN. She is in the same vicinity as 2_15.
There were no reported mortalities during February, but 26-10 and 19-05 are long-term missing and are now removed from the population totals above.
One of the things I’ve come to realize over the years is that whooping cranes have this incredible ability to locate others of their kind. Sure, they’re big and really loud and stark white, which makes them stick out on the landscape but when you consider the vastness of the geographical area they cover in their twice-a-year journeys… Well, I think it’s pretty amazing.
I came across another instance of this yesterday morning. Take a look at the following Google Earth screengrab.
The location is a field in somewhere, Indiana. (We do not divulge the exact location of whooping cranes). The multiple red dots are hits from the GSM remote tracking device worn by Parent Reared whooping crane #71-16. The two blue dots are from the PTT satellite device worn by female whooper #2-15.
These two cranes weren’t raised together. In fact, one is a year older. They’ve never met until they both decided to select the exact same field on their northward trip back to Wisconsin. How cool is that?!
To add to the cool factor, consider this: Another female whooper, #14-15 is located only 4 miles from this field.
Each spring, as many as a half million sandhill cranes will stop to rest and fuel up at Nebraska’s central Platte River at an 80-mile stretch of the river.
The most popular place to see the sandhills on the Platte river is the National Audubon Society’s Rowe Sanctuary in Gibbon, just outside Fort Kearney. If you can’t make the trip, you can still watch the action via Rowe Sanctuary’s live video feed. You may even see a whooping crane among the smaller gray cranes…
Since the cranes leave the river to feed during the day, the best times to view are near sunrise and sunset.
Volunteer crane trackers Stephen Smith and Shelley Richardson sent along the following images from their efforts yesterday in Greene County, Indiana.
Nine – count ’em – NINE Whooping cranes in one location!
Steve says the group included 24-13, 10-09, 66-15, 17-07, 10-11 and 7-07. The other three cranes have non-functional vhf transmitters and could not be identified.
If you see a whooping crane (or nine), be sure to complete the public sighting form for the Eastern Migratory Population.