US Fish & Wildlife Service


Date of this Version



Kruse, K.L., J.A. Dubovsky, and T.R. Cooper. 2011. Status and harvests of sandhill cranes: Mid-Continent, Rocky Mountain, Lower Colorado River Valley and Eastern Populations. Administrative Report, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Denver, Colorado. 12pp.


Compared to increases recorded in the 1970s, annual indices to abundance of the Mid-Continent Population (MCP) of sandhill cranes have been relatively stable since the early 1980s. The spring 2011 index for sandhill cranes in the Central Platte River Valley, Nebraska, uncorrected for visibility bias, was 363,356 birds. The photo-corrected, 3-year average for 2008-10 was 600,892, which is above the established population-objective range of 349,000-472,000 cranes. All Central Flyway States, except Nebraska, allowed crane hunting in portions of their States during 2010-11. An estimated 8,738 hunters participated in these seasons, which was 10% higher than the number that participated in the previous season. Hunters harvested 18,727 MCP cranes in the U.S. portion of the Central Flyway during the 2010-11 seasons, which was 23% higher than the estimated harvest for the previous year and 29% higher than the long-term average. The retrieved harvest of MCP cranes in hunt areas outside of the Central Flyway (Arizona, Pacific Flyway portion of New Mexico, Minnesota, Alaska, Canada, and Mexico combined) was 15,025 during 2010-11. The preliminary estimate for the North American MCP sport harvest, including crippling losses, was 38,561 birds, which was a 51% increase from the previous year’s estimate. The long-term (1982-2008) trends for the MCP indicate that harvest has been increasing at a higher rate than population growth. The fall 2010 pre-migration survey for the Rocky Mountain Population (RMP) resulted in a count of 21,064 cranes. The 3-year average was 20,847 sandhill cranes, which is within the established population objective of 17,000-21,000 for the RMP. Hunting seasons during 2010-11 in portions of Arizona, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming resulted in a harvest of 1,336 RMP cranes, a 4% decrease from the record-high harvest of 1,392 in 2009-10. The Lower Colorado River Valley Population (LCRVP) survey results indicate a slight increase from 2,264 birds in 2010 to 2,415 birds in 2011. The 3-year average is 2,360 LCRVP cranes which is below the population objective of 2,500. The Eastern Population (EP) has rebounded from near extirpation in the late 1800s to over 30,000 cranes by 1996. As a result of this rebound and their range expansion, the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyway Councils developed a cooperative management plan for this population and criteria have been developed describing when hunting seasons can be opened. Kentucky has proposed to initiate the first hunting season on this population in the 2011-12 season.