Sandhill Cranes and Whooping Cranes Need Our Help!

by Larry Jordan on March 20, 2011

This photo was taken by Jim Rickards, I hope he doesn’t mind me using it

The thought of one of these beautiful birds being shot to death saddens me to the point of tears.  What a ridiculous notion it would be to put the remaining 400 wild Whooping Cranes in danger of being shot to death for what some folks call “sport.”

Well, guess what?  That is exactly what is happening.  Five endangered Whooping Cranes were shot just this winter in Georgia and Alabama.  There is a reward offered for information on these shootings of $23,250.  Not a big enough reward even if we find the perpetrator, say I.

So, in case you haven’t heard about this situation, let me explain.  Sandhill Crane “hunting” (I wouldn’t call it hunting, it’s really just shooting) is legal in 13 states in the West and Midwest, including nine of the 10 states in the Central Flyway.  Sandhill Crane shooting seasons currently exist in Alaska, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Wyoming and Minnesota.

There are groups of people now that want to open seasons on Sandhill Cranes in the Eastern United States, specifically Tennessee, Kentucky and Wisconsin.  One of the big problems with this plan is that Whooping Cranes use this Eastern Flyway as a migration route and apparently some folks can’t tell the difference between the two species.  This is not at all surprising for several reasons that most birders probably already know.  Birds are sometimes hard to identify, even in good light.

I just finished reading the “Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership Five Year Strategic Plan” (download the PDF file here) and it looks like, and rightfully so, that they are very concerned about nesting success for the Eastern population of Whooping Cranes.  Here is a quote from the conclusion of their plan (Part 4. Conclusion: A Look To The Future):

Whooping cranes are charismatic birds that will require our long-term attention and support to fully recover from their near extinction in the 1940’s, when only 21 individual whooping cranes remained alive in the wild. A self-sustaining wild flock of whooping cranes that nests in Wisconsin and migrates south to wintering habitat is a crucial component for recovery of the species from its current status: in danger of extinction. The efforts of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership and our many supporters and contributors have resulted in great success in the first ten years of the reintroduction effort. The eastern migratory flock numbers nearly a hundred adult whooping cranes. As we work through the next five and ten years of the reintroduction effort, we intend to set this population on the path to long-term viability, so that whooping cranes become a familiar and expected part of the landscape in the eastern United States.
Seeing success in building and sustaining populations of long-lived, highly specialized species such as the whooping crane requires patience and sustained efforts over the long term. Whooping cranes in the wild often do not raise young until their third, fifth, or even seventh year, and even mature cranes may skip a year of reproduction in hard years. Therefore, population growth is slow, and seeing results in population recovery takes time.

Does this conclusion look like opening a “hunting” season on Sandhill Cranes, with the likelihood of Whooping Cranes being shot a real possibility sound like a good strategy to you?  The really odd thing is, one of the members of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) guidance team is the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.  Yes that’s right, Wisconsin is one of the states considering hunting cranes!

It seems to me that if you are concerned about nesting success of Whooping Cranes in an ongoing program that began ten years ago and is having good success because of a lot of hard work, money spent and support by the general public, you would be even more concerned about adult birds being killed and losing five of the birds that made it to adulthood.  This is a no-brainer is it not?  Opening a “hunting” season on Sandhill Cranes will surely lead to the loss of endangered Whooping Cranes!

Julie Zickefoose has just written a post entitled “The Nonessential Whooping Crane” that you can read over at 10000 Birds.  Please do so.  In it she explains why this is a really bad idea.

My friend Vickie Henderson, who has been a real  leader on this issue, has also written a fine piece entitled “Sandhill Crane Hunting in the East? Why?” in which she tries to explain why this would even be considered.  Go read it!

Both of the above posts have several links to people we all need to write to, stating our opposition to the proposed Sandhill Crane slaughters.  I wholeheartedly urge you to write letters opposing the killing of this exquisite species and possibly the endangered Whooping Crane to:

The Honorable Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior
Department of the Interior
1849 C. Street, N.W
Mail Stop 7060 Washington, D.C. 20240


Rowan W. Gould
Secretary, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240

I also ask you to sign the petition asking for a review of the Management Plan for the Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes here.

If you don’t think you have the time to write these letters or sign the petition, just take a look at the video below.  If you have already made up your mind to write the letters and sign the petition, please DO NOT watch the video.  It will most likely make you sick to your stomach.

Thank you for your support on the Sandhill Crane issue and if you really want to help the Whooping Crane cause, you can donate to Operation Migration like I do.  Thanks!

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie Zickefoose March 22, 2011 at 3:26 am

Larry, thank you for this gut-wrenching post. I’d never had the courage to watch a crane hunting video. Seeing these inexperienced boys able to kill cranes with crude 2-D decoys and without even using a blind confirms my suspicion that a big, slow-flying crane is a lot easier to kill than many would have you believe. There is an incredible dissonance in hearing the calls of cranes coupled with gunshots, and the sickening thuds of the shot birds only add to my resolve to protest the hunt as long and hard as I can. Thank you, thank you.


Mike B. March 23, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Thanks for the information Larry. This is horrifying. I just don’t get it.

Reply March 23, 2011 at 9:51 pm

I am by no means against responsible and well managed hunting, but this is pure lunacy! Why anyone would want to shoot a crane escapes me, there is no sport in that at all.


Pat ODonnell March 26, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Thanks for keeping up with posts about crane hunts and what we can do to hopefully stop this tragedy. I am not against hunting persay but I dont see any justifiable reason for killing cranes of any kind. I especially fail to find an ounce of honor in putting out decoys to draw in and kill large, slow flying birds.


Larry March 27, 2011 at 12:08 pm

@Julie the video was shocking to me as well. I really hope that the public sentiment against the hunt will sway the powers that be

@Mike I know exactly how you feel

@Chantelle I totally agree with you and I think “lunacy” sums it up nicely

@Pat thank you for your support


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