Did you know that there are only 60 known breeding pairs of Hooded Cranes in the world? And that the Hooded Crane's breeding and wintering habitats are threatened in at least three countries? This post is the first in a three-part series on the endangered hooded crane and its appearance in North America.Hooded Crane with young at the nest in the remote Xing'an Mountain wetlands (Lesser Khingan) of China.
Photo credit: Guo Yumin
Until recently, the Hooded Crane was not a well-know species in the United States. But its mid-December arrival at Tennessee's Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge along with thousands of wintering sandhill cranes changed that status, giving it high visibility through state birding list-serves and the news media. In fact, from the time it arrived at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge on December 14th, 2011 to its subsequent discovery in Indiana on February 8th, 2012, more than 4100 visitors came to the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge to see this crane. These visitors arrived from 47 states and 14 different nations.
Hooded Crane with staging sandhill cranes at Tennessee's Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: Mike Nelson
The above numbers exclude the 3200 plus visitors that came to the Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival held from January 14 to 15, 2012 at Birchwood, TN and the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge. The Hooded Crane made an appearance at the festival on Saturday, the 14th, and I was fortunate to be among the hundreds that viewed it through scopes as it foraged along the river shoreline. Festival survey responses indicated that 12% of festival attendees came specifically to see the Hooded Crane.
That is quite a stir for a single bird, a rare bird that is smaller and darker than its sandhill crane cousins and often chased to the edges of the foraging flocks. This is assumed to be one of the reasons it has been so visible and easy to find among thousands of staging sandhill cranes. The Hooded Crane often stays to the edges of the masses and may be seen on the outskirts of cranes in flight.
It is not certain how this individual found its way to the eastern United States, traveling now in the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways with the migrating Eastern Population of Greater Sandhill Cranes. Birders are watching for its arrival at staging areas north of its last seen location. I wonder, also, if we should watch for it to the west.
Standing only 3.3 ft tall compared to the 4-5 ft sandhill cranes in the east, a hooded crane has only twice before been recorded in the wild in North America, near Carey, Idaho, in April 2010, and at the Platte River in Nebraska in April of 2011.
The Hooded Crane is not only a rare species in the United States, it is an endangered species in its native breeding areas in China and Russia, with its numbers continuing to decline. The hooded crane population is believed to be 9000 in number currently, but only 60 breeding pairs have been confirmed in the world. Known breeding areas are limited to eastern Siberia in Russia and the boreal wetlands of the remote Xing'an Mountains in China, making it difficult to study its breeding behavior. But that is just what Dr Guo Yumin and his team of Russian and Chinese scientists are doing--studying the breeding biology of hooded cranes so they can help this species and educate communities near its breeding habitat.
Next: What Is Threatening the Hooded Crane's Survival?
Links and Resources:
A special thank you to Dr. Guo Yumin, College of Nature Conservation, Beijing Forestry University, for the use of his images in this post series. The bottom left photo is one of the many annual calendars that Dr. Yumin and his colleagues publish and distribute to the communities near Hooded Crane habitat in order to help educate people about the special nature of Hooded Cranes. Additionally, many educational brochures are printed and distributed.
Whitley Fund for Nature
Chinese ornithologist, Guo Yumin, win's Whitley Award for his research on hooded crane.
Map source: International Crane Foundation
Mike Nelson's Flicker site with Hooded crane video and photo stream
Saga of the Hooded Crane ABA
ABA Rare Hooded Crane in Indiana
Top Crane Posts on this blog: Hooded Crane at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in TN
Crane Magic--Three Crane Species at Hiwassee. Other posts on: the Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival, Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge and sandhill cranes.
At my companion blog, Vickie's Sketchbook: Sandhill Cranes and Art
Whooping cranes in watercolor