Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge
Conserving the Nature of America
Eco Umbrellas

The “Eco Umbrellas” program teaches about the interconnectivity of all the living things around us. Specifically, the program emphasizes the importance of wet pine savanna habitat for the endangered cranes and the role of fire in maintaining the savanna. The cranes serve as an umbrella species - as we restore the gulf coast habitats for cranes - we also benefit other wildlife populations, such as ground nesting birds.

Kids using Binoculars
Brief Overview of the Program: This free program takes about 3 hours of on-refuge time, depending on the size of the group. Larger groups will need more time. Picnic tables are available for lunch breaks.

Before their field trip, students will have watched the video. Ideally, they will have also filled out the video worksheet and completed the definition activity (video and worksheets available for free - contact us!). When the bus arrives, a brief introduction & overview of the day’s program will be given.  Students will be divided into groups and then into pairs. Each pair of students should receive an activity sheet and a clipboard.

Download Mississippi State Educational Benchmark Correlations for 5th Grade or 6th Grade.

There are 3 main elements to the Eco Umbrellas program. Additional elements may be added for larger groups to keep group sizes smaller for rotation through the program.

Fire Ecology


Fire Ecology – Savannas are grasslands with widely scattered trees. Usually, these are pine trees, oaks and small numbers of other species.

Historically, fires would sweep across vast expanses of savanna, using the grass and pine needles as starter fuel, small shrubs and young trees were often cleared out – keeping the savanna open.

Students will be introduced to the concepts of fire ecology. Why, when and how we burn. They will understand the important role of weather in determining the possibility of a prescribed burn.

Hands on activities using fire weather kits and other equipment make the fire portion of the program a class favorite.

Before they leave, students will have filled out the fire ecology portion of their activity sheet.


Crane Biology – Mississippi sandhill cranes are one of the rarest population of birds in the United States. They are endangered with only 100-110 left in the wild.

Because they do not migrate, habitat fragmentation on the coast has been one of the limiting factors for the survival of this species. They are dependant upon the availability of open savanna for nesting and feeding and open ponds for roosting.

Students will be introduced to crane biology of individual cranes and of the population as a whole (calls, social activities, dancing, etc). They will understand how biologists monitor the cranes and how the data collected helps us contribute to crane conservation on a global level.

Before they leave, students will have filled out the crane biology portion of their activity sheet.

Crane costume
On the burnt trail

Gulf Coast Habitat – Wet pine savanna and other gulf coast habitats have high densities of different plants. With the great diversity of plants, the land can support many species of wildlife – including cranes and ground nesting birds, sparrows, woodpeckers, lizards and more. Maintaining these habitats helps all the animals that live in them.

Wet pine savannas are called that because they are often wet. Wet soil is often poor in nutrients that plants need to grow. Carnivorous plants are adapted to living in nutrient-poor soil by trapping and digesting insects.

It is best if the Eco Umbrellas program can be done at the refuge, but we understand if funds limit the availability of busses, etc. If you are interested in the program, please contact us for options.
Last updated: August 26, 2010