North American Crane Working Group


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Johnson, D.H., J.E. Austin, and J.A. Shaffer. A fresh look at the taxonomy of midcontinental sandhill cranes. In Chavez-Ramirez, F, ed. 2005. Proceedings of the Ninth North American Crane Workshop, Jan 17-20, 2003. Sacramento, California: North American Crane Working Group. Pp. 37-46.


Reproduced by permission of the NACWG.


The midcontinental population of sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) includes about 500,000 birds and provides valuable recreational crane-watching and hunting opportunities in Canada and the United States. It comprises three subspecies, one of which (G. c. rowani) was of uncertain taxonomic status and another of which (G. c. tabida) merited protection from excessive harvest due to its small population size. We obtained measurements of cranes used by Johnson and Stewart (1973) and additional crane specimens to 1) evaluate the subspecies designation of midcontinental sandhill cranes and 2) to seek improved methods for classifying cranes from selected measurements. We found that the three named subspecies are in fact morphologically distinct, although there is a general gradient of smaller birds breeding in the far north to larger birds breeding at more southerly latitudes. We were not able to find better ways of identifying subspecies; in particular we could not find a reliable method that did not require knowledge of the sex of an individual crane.