The use of satellite telemetry to evaluate migration chronology and breeding, migratory, and wintering distribution of Eastern Population sandhill cranes

Principal Investigator: David E. Andersen.

Student: Dave Fronczak (M.S., Natural Resources Science and Management – Wildlife Ecology and Management).

Status: Research Work Order established and first sample of EP sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) captured in late 2009 and early 2010. Additional project objectives identified and expanded to include survey evaluation in 2010. Additional cranes captured and radio-marked in late 2010 and 2011. M.S. student completed course requirements in 2012. M.S. thesis submitted for review and defense planned for October 2014. 

The Eastern Population (EP) of sandhill cranes is rapidly expanding in size and geographic distribution. The core of their breeding distribution occurs in Wisconsin, Michigan, and southern Ontario; however, the EP breeding distribution has expanded in all directions as the population has grown. Little is known about the geographic extent of breeding, migration, and wintering ranges of EP cranes. In addition, little is known about migration chronology including when fall/spring migration commences or how long birds remain at staging areas.

Recently, tracking of cranes via satellite telemetry has successfully been used to better understand the breeding, migration, and wintering distribution and migration chronology for the Mid-Continent Population of sandhill cranes. A similar study is necessary for EP cranes not only to improve our understanding of migration ecology, but such information will be critical for evaluating the timing and location of population surveys.

The Mississippi and Atlantic Flyway Councils are currently in the process of developing a management plan for EP sandhill cranes that includes provisions for establishing a hunting season for EP cranes in states within these flyways. It is anticipated that some states will immediately request approval for hunting seasons once the plan is completed, and since this project was initiated, limited hunting seasons have occurred in Tennessee and Kentucky. Consequently, having an informed population monitoring survey is important for the future management of EP cranes. The results from this study will assist managers in making decisions about optimal survey timing and locations.

The objectives for this study are to employ satellite transmitters on a sample of EP sandhill cranes to:

  1. delineate the breeding and wintering distribution of EP sandhill cranes;
  2. delineate migratory corridors for EP sandhill cranes; and
  3. determine migration chronology.

Final Report:  Eastern Population Sandhill Crane Final Report (Fronczak Thesis) (.pdf)