US Fish & Wildlife Service


Date of this Version



Kruse, K.L., J.A. Dubovsky, and T.R. Cooper. 2012. 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. 14pp.


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 2012 index for sandhill cranes in the Central Platte River Valley, Nebraska, uncorrected for visibility bias, was 259,576 birds, which was significantly lower than the previous 5 years likely due to later timing of the survey period and an early spring migration. The photocorrected, 3-year average for 2009-11 was 579,863, 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 2011-12. An estimated 7,836 hunters participated in these seasons, which was 11% lower than the number that participated in the previous season. Hunters harvested 14,442 MCP cranes in the U.S. portion of the Central Flyway during the 2011-12 seasons, which was 23% lower than the harvest for the previous year and 1% lower 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 13,205 during 2011-12. The preliminary estimate for the North American MCP sport harvest, including crippling losses, was 31,354 birds, which was a 13% decrease 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 2011 pre-migration survey for the Rocky Mountain Population (RMP) resulted in a count of 17,494 cranes. The 3-year average was 19,626 sandhill cranes, which is within the established population objective of 17,000-21,000 for the RMP. Hunting seasons during 2011-12 in portions of Arizona, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming resulted in a harvest of 1,262 RMP cranes, a 6% decrease from the previous year’s harvest. The Lower Colorado River Valley Population (LCRVP) survey results indicate a slight increase from 2,415 birds in 2011 to 2,646 birds in 2012. The 3-year average is 2,442 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 held its first hunting season on this population in 2011-12 and harvested 50 cranes.