North American Crane Working Group


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Krapu, G.L., and D.A. Brandt. Spring migratory habits and breeding distribution of lesser sandhill cranes that winter in west-central New Mexico and Arizona. In: Folk, MJ and SA Nesbitt, eds. 2008. Proceedings of the Tenth North American Crane Workshop, Feb. 7-10, 2006, Zacatecas City, Zacatecas, Mexico: North American Crane Working Group. pp. 43-49.


Reproduced by permission of the North American Crane Working Group.


Little information exists on the spring migratory habits and breeding distribution of lesser sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis canadensis) that winter in west-central New Mexico and southeastern Arizona. To address this question, we captured and attached a total of 6 Platform Transmitting Terminals (PTT) to adult lesser sandhill cranes at 2 sites each in west-central New Mexico and southeastern Arizona during December 2001 and monitored the birds’ movements to arrival on their arctic breeding grounds. After departing from their wintering grounds, 2 of the cranes stopped at Monte Vista NWR in south-central Colorado where they stayed for 17 and 23 days. All 6 cranes migrated to Nebraska, where 5 stopped in the North Platte River Valley (2 near Lewellen and 3 near Hershey) and 1 in the Central Platte River Valley near Kearney (mean length of stay = 24.5 days, range 8.5–33). The migration pathways taken to Nebraska by the 6 cranes were, on average, 1,192 km farther than direct flight distances from wintering to breeding grounds. Four cranes were present on the surveyed sites in Nebraska on 26 March, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted their 2002 crane population census; the 2 cranes that stopped at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge did not arrive in Nebraska until about 4 April. From Nebraska, all 6 cranes migrated to western Saskatchewan; 3 later moved to sites in eastern Alberta (mean length of stay in Saskatchewan/Alberta = 21 days, range 12.7–28.0). From Saskatchewan and Alberta, the cranes flew, with a few brief intervening stops, to breeding grounds located on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in western Alaska (n = 2) and the Chukotka Penninsula, Chaun Delta, and Anadyr Delta in northeastern Siberia (n = 4). Use of the Central Platte or North Platte River valleys by all 6 cranes was unexpected given the major increase in flight distance required and reflects the exceptional attachment to Nebraska staging areas by the mid-continent population of sandhill cranes. Spring migration routes, staging locations, and breeding distributions of these 6 cranes suggest that lesser sandhill cranes wintering in west-central New Mexico and in southeastern Arizona are affiliated with the Western Alaska/Siberia subpopulation.