Songbird Protection Coalition
Sandhill Crane Articles by Title
Sandhill cranes are known for their complex courtship dancing skills. The beauty and elegance of cranes has inspired people in cultures all over the world and has made them an important part of a multi-billion dollar backyard bird watching and feeding industry. See full article here.
Sound scientific research studies indicate the hunting of sandhill cranes could threaten their diversity. Recent research studies in Wisconsin have noted that opening a recreational hunting season on the Eastern Population could easily wipe out unique populations and all of that genetic variation necessary for long-term survival of the species - especially in the northern most range of the unit. See full article here.
The Sandhill crane was nearly wiped out in the 1800s by human hunting pressure and habitat conversion to human-use activities. Wetlands cover about 15 percent of Michigan and about one-half of the State's wetlands have been converted to other uses, primarily agriculture. While complaints about temporary conflicts are sometimes cited as justification for opening a sport hunting season on sandhill cranes, it is widely understood by wildlife biologists and state and federal agencies that such a hunting season would not provide direct assistance to areas impacted by spring crop damage (Ad Hoc Eastern Population Sandhill Crane Committee, 2010; et al.). Avipel Shield is the best solution for corn planted near prime wetland habitats where cranes and other birds and mammals that eat corn seed are active. Under a depredation permit issued by the USDA, "Any birds killed are to be disposed of in accordance of the permit and are not to be used for human consumption." See full article here.
Michigan's Greater Sandhill Crane Population
Biologists note long-term survey studies cannot be relied upon or of any use consistent with scientific research standards or basic principles of sound science. Population studies are specifically noted in status reports as having a low in precision of indices of accurate population estimates - there simply are no reliable or consistent long-term population status reports and some studies are noted as introducing bias. Even long-term surveys by the USFWS have to be excluded from analysis due to significant inconsistencies. See full article here.
Greater Sandhill cranes in the Eastern Population (Michigan) are known as one of the slowest reproducing birds in North America. This slow rate of what biologists call “recruitment” has resulted in a very long and slow recovery from near extirpation in Michigan. Although some sandhill cranes are physically capable of breeding as early as two years of age, most sandhill cranes may reach the age of four to seven years of age before breeding. The non-hunting Eastern Population of sandhill cranes has an average recruitment of 12 percent and scientific studies suggest that recruitment rates of 5 to 10 percent are necessary for population maintenance at current levels. See full article here.
In 2015, a rare sighting of a whooping crane occurred in southwest Michigan. Giving hope that this endangered species can someday come back to Michigan to breed. Documented accidental and deliberate shootings of endangered whooping cranes by hunters are on record since before 1943 and continue to this day. Whooping cranes often closely associate with sandhill cranes and biologists note hunting as a threat to the successful reintroduction of the whooping crane, especially into the EP range (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, US Fish and wildlife Service, Canadian Wildlife Service). Additionally, there is potential for loss of current habitat use by whooping cranes if hunting is introduced within the northern most breeding range of the EP (Richard Urbanek pers comm.). See full article here.
The degree of inaccuracy in the annual sandhill crane hunt is significant. Biologists note long-term studies cannot be relied upon or of any use consistent with scientific research standards or basic principles of sound science - there simply are no reliable or consistent long-term population status reports and some studies are noted as introducing bias. "Unofficial reports suggest that the unretrieved birds, which are crippled by hunters and left to die, may number at least 15 percent of the retrieved kill, which are those birds comprising a hunter's legal quota. Hence, sandhill cranes that are taken by the gun each autumn may approach 35,000 birds. One would question the sustainability of these numbers" (Cranes: A Natural History of a Bird in Crisis, by Janice M. Hughes). Toxic lead shot is used on Sandhill cranes. See full article here.
Not only must current population numbers be estimated with confidence, but we need to understand how those numbers have fluctuated over time and what has caused those fluctuations in order to really understand this species’ population dynamics. We are nowhere near this level of data-driven readiness or confidence with the eastern population of Sandhill Crane. This was a large part of the frustration felt by wildlife biologists and ecologists on this issue. See full article here. See Michigan population graphhere.
See more about cranes here.