Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge
Conserving the Nature of America

Mississippi Sandhill Cranes

Cranes are unique and are among the most spectacular of the bird families. In fact, they have captured the human imagination as few other birds have. Famed naturalist and pioneering wildlife biologist Aldo Leopold described them as, "nobility in the midst of mediocrity."

There are 15 species of cranes in the world, found on all continents except South America and Antarctica. Besides being one of the most interesting bird families, cranes are among the most endangered. [Species Field Guide]

Eleven of the 15 are considered at risk of extinction. Two crane species are found in North America, the endangered whooping crane and the wide-ranging sandhill cranes.

There are six different geographic types or subspecies of the wide-ranging sandhill cranes, all of which are uniformly gray in color with a carmine unfeathered crown and a white cheek patch.

Three are migratory subspecies, breeding in the northern United States and Canada and wintering in the southern United States and Mexico.

Three are non-migratory subspecies: the threatened Florida sandhill, endangered Cuban sandhill and the endangered Mississippi sandhill.

The Mississippi sandhill crane was described as a distinct subspecies in 1972 and there are physiological, morphological, behavioral and other differences between them and other sandhill cranes.

Three MS Sandhill Cranes

The Mississippi sandhill crane is a noticeably different darker shade of gray resulting in a more distinct cheek patch. Despite the limited number of breeding pairs in the wild population, electrophoretic studies indicate a reasonable level of genetic diversity.

These studies also show that the MS sandhill cranes posess one gene that is unique to sandhills and another that is different from even the Florida sandhill cranes.

Line of Cranes

The Mississippi Sandhill Cranes
The Mississippi and Florida sandhill cranes were listed as rare in the 1968 list of Rare and Endangered Wildlife of the United States. After being described as a separate subspecies, the Mississippi sandhill cranes were added to the United States' List of Endangered Fish and Wildlife on June 4, 1973. Jake Valentine wrote the first Recovery Plan in 1976; the third and last revision of the recovery plan was issued in 1991.

Crane Chick  


Federal: Endangered
State: Endangered
IUCN: Critically Endangered (C2b)
The Nature Conservancy: Global-G5T1, National-N1, State-MS(S1), AL(SX)

Mississippi sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis pulla) are a critically endangered subspecies found nowhere else on earth in the wild but on and adjacent to the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge. There are only about 110 individuals remaining, including about 20-25 breeding pairs.

The cranes are in decline primarily due to habitat decline. The original range of this population was thought to extend along the Gulf coastal plain from southern Louisiana east into Mississippi, Alabama, and into the western Florida panhandle.

Their range probably followed that of their habitat, the wet pine savanna. As this habitat was destroyed and degraded, the population declined. The last breeding records for Louisiana are from the 1910s and Alabama from 1960.

Much of the loss of crane habitat is due to the conversion of open pine savanna to pine plantations created following World War II. Habitat decline is also caused by suppression of the natural fire regime, degrading the savanna. [See Fire Management]

With air conditioning, rising living standards, and interstate construction, thousands of people moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to live and visit. The habitat was divided and subdivided until the refuge is now only small islands surrounded by human-altered landscapes. Cranes have also been directly harassed, shot, and may even suffer the effects of environmental contaminants.

Learn more about the cranes....
-Crane Biology    
Last updated: May 23, 2009