Important Information for
Waterfowl and Sandhill Crane Hunters
The purpose of this web site is to provide waterfowl and Sandhill Crane hunters with information that will reduce the likelihood of shooting illegally at migratory birds that may look like Sandhill Cranes, but for which there is no open season and are protected by Federal law. Some of these protected migratory bird species are common, while others are rare. One of these protected migratory bird species is very rare, the Whooping Crane, and has been listed as endangered. Special Note: All images on this page can be enlarged by clicking once on the image.
Whooping Cranes, or whoopers, stand over five feet tall and are the tallest bird in North America. These cranes have a wingspan of over seven feet and often associate with Sandhill Cranes during the fall hunting period, but are white in appearance and have black legs and black wing tips. They have a red facial mask and long olive-drab bills.
Whooping Cranes encountered
by hunters in the Central Flyway are part of the last remaining self-sustaining
wild population of about 200 individual birds known as the Aransas/Wood Buffalo
Park Population (AWBP). They breed at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada,
migrate through the Central Flyway (North Dakota, South Dakota, eastern Montana,
Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma), and winter at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
in Texas. The fall migration begins in mid-September and they normally reach
their wintering grounds by early December. These cranes usually migrate as a
single pair, family group, or in small flocks. When Whooping Cranes travel as
singles they often join groups of Sandhill Cranes. It is extremely important
not to shoot at any white-colored cranes since they may be Whooping Cranes.
They migrate during the daylight hours and make regular stops to feed and rest.
This map of confirmed Whooping Crane sightings of the AWBP indicates that whoopers
can potentially be encountered in many different locations throughout the Central
Flyway during the fall migration.
Please report all sightings of Whooping Cranes to your State Fish and Game Agency (local game warden or biologist), to a local U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office, or to Martha Tacha, USFWS in Grand Island, Nebraska (telephone 308-382-6468, Ext. 19; Martha_Tacha@fws.gov) or to the following webpage http://www.fws.gov/midwest/whoopingcrane/sightings/sightingform.cfm. Please note date, location, number of birds, behavior (walking, flying), habitat, and physical description. An international network has been set up to keep all reports in a centralized database which is used to monitor the migration. If possible, get a professional biologist or ornithologist to view the cranes to confirm the sighting.
Many species of birds are commonly encountered while hunting Sandhill Cranes near wetlands and associated upland feeding and resting areas. Some species of birds that associate with Sandhill Cranes (e.g., waterfowl) can be hunted legally in some areas. However, hunters should consult state regulations for additional information on season dates, areas, and other regulations governing take of these species. Visit www.flyways.us for more hunting information.
protected migratory birds which may not be taken, possessed, transported, sold
or bartered include all migratory birds as defined and protected under federal
law. These species include, but are not limited to, Trumpeter Swans (Central
Flyway only), Whooping Cranes, cormorants, bitterns, grebes, herons, kingfishers,
loons, pelicans, gulls, shore birds, eagles, falcons, hawks, and owls. It is
the responsibility of all hunters to be able to identify species legal to hunt
and not attempt to shoot any protected species. It’s the law!
Whooping Cranes and Birds Which Appear Similar. Credit: USFWS
There are many good bird identification books, pamphlets, videos, and etc. available to Sandhill Crane hunters. Field guides tend to be useful for many hunters due to their compact size. Several field identification references for waterfowl hunters are readily available by contacting your local State or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office. For more information on bird identification resources, visit the following related links:
North American Sandhill
Cranes are classified into five subspecies and 9 populations.
Two of the subspecies of Sandhill Cranes are migratory (greaters and lessers), while
three have very limited ranges and are non-migratory (Mississippi, Florida, and
the Cuban). In 1918, when the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was enacted, Sandhill
Crane populations were low and all cranes were protected from hunting in the
U.S. and Canada. Several populations of Sandhill
Cranes responded favorably to this
protection and increased availability of agricultural residues for food on migration
and wintering areas.
The Mid-Continent and Rocky
Mountain Populations of Sandhill Cranes are two of the populations that increased
to healthy levels and experimental hunting seasons resumed in 1961. Today, Sandhill
Crane hunting in the Central and Pacific Flyways, Canada, and Mexico is enjoyed
by thousands of North Americans. Annual Sandhill Crane harvest and population
status reports are found at: http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/NewReportsPublications/PopulationStatus.html
The Mid-Continent population of Sandhill Cranes migrates through the Central Flyway from their breeding grounds in Siberia, Alaska, and Canada to their wintering grounds in Texas, New Mexico, southeastern Arizona, and Mexico. The population is estimated to be over ½ million birds, the largest crane population in the world. The Rocky Mountain of population of Greater Sandhill Cranes migrates through the eastern portion of the Pacific Flyway and western portion of the Central Flyway. The population is estimated to be about 20,000 birds.
Harvest Information Program (HIP) survey provides critical scientific harvest
information to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and State Wildlife
Agencies responsible for the management of these birds. It is very important
for all sandhill crane hunters to cooperate in this harvest survey, in doing
so hunters help the management of this important migratory bird species. Each
year, the USFWS sends a survey to a sample of sandhill crane hunters from every
state where sandhill crane hunting is permitted. Information on participation
and hunting success is used to establish management guidelines, season dates
and bag limits. The information from the annual harvest survey is crucial for
the management of sandhill crane populations and maintaining hunting opportunity.
It is especially important for sandhill crane hunters to participate in this
survey since the accuracy of the data is questioned when hunters fail to respond.
The USFWS is trying to increase the response rate on HIP surveys, even those
individuals who did not hunt cranes need to participate in the survey if they
receive a questionnaire.
Visit these web sites for more information on sandhill cranes:
HIP Purchase Credit: Dave Sharp, USFWS
April 23, 2013