Friday, February 24, 2012

What is Causing the Decline of the Hooded Crane?

A secretive bird whose breeding territories were only first discovered in 1974, the Hooded Crane is described as one of the least understood large birds in the world. And that is primarily because it nests in the remote and inaccessible sphagnum bogs scattered through the taiga in southeastern Russia, and in China, in forested wetlands in mountain valleys.
Hooded Cranes on their breeding territory in China.  Photo credit:  Guo Yumin

Throughout history the divergence, degradation and destruction of wetland ecosystems have threatened crane habitat around the world, including the Platte River in Nebraska, and the Guadalupe and San Antonio Rivers in Texas, USA, vital migration and wintering habitats for sandhill cranes and the world's endangered Whooping Cranes. Wetlands are often considered wastelands, areas to be modified for human consumption, development, and agriculture, despite the wetland ecosystem's important role in maintaining water quality and environmental health.
Hooded crane wetland ecosystem in Xing'an Mountains.  Photo credit:  Guo Yumin

The Ussuri, Lena, and Amur Rivers of North East Asia, are fed by the boreal wetland ecosystems of the Xang'an Mountains, which remain one of the last remote wildernesses of the area.  But wetlands are being lost in China faster than any other land type, especially lands desired for agriculture.  The greatest increase in agricultural lands, through the conversion of wetlands to agricultural usage, between 1990 to 2000, occurred in the Xing'an Mountains, a primary breeding habitat for the Hooded Crane.
Hooded Crane at its nest.   Photo credit:  Guo Yumin

Dr Guo Yumin, of the Beijing Forestry University, and his team of Chinese and Russian scientists, are studying  the breeding biology of the hooded crane and teaching area communities about the value of this species.  Below, you see one of the hundreds of annual calendars distributed in local communities to educate and raise awareness about Hooded cranes and their habitat.

The chief threats to the Hooded Crane and its habitat include:  Russia and Mongolia--loss of habitat due to the construction of gold mines and reservoirs; China--illegal hunting, poisoning and reclamation of forest wetlands; Japan--over crowding of the species on wintering grounds threatening disease.

The good news is, Dr Yumin and his team, in partnership with the Whitley Fund for Nature and Grus Monacha International Aid, have been influencing change in the hooded crane's habitat through research and the education of local governments, communities, and businesses.

Successful strategies for influencing gold mining in China are now helping scientists influence relevant parties in Russia, reducing the impact of mining on the Hooded Crane's habitat. The State Forestry Bureau of China has established two Nature Reserves in Hooded Crane breeding habitat with the goal of management for the long-term as a result of Dr Yumin's team's conservation efforts. And in Japan, scientists are studying methods of decentralization for the hooded crane population on its wintering grounds and determining ways to improve habitat management.

Hooded cranes at a wintering feeding station in Japan.  Photo credit:  Walter Sturgeon

Though much has been accomplished over the past several years, Dr Yumin affirms that hard work is yet to come. "The hooded crane still faces many threats, our protection work [has] a long way to go."

Next:  Keeping and Informed Eye on America's Hooded Crane.  Dr Yumin shows us how to distinguish individual Hooded cranes.

This is the second post in a three-part series on the endangered Hooded Crane and its appearance in North America.  To see all the posts in this series visit:  America's Hooded Crane.  The first post will appear last.

Links and Resources:

WFN--Whitley Fund for Nature
Chinese ornithologist, Guo Yumin, win's Whitley Award for his research on hooded crane.
Study of Hooded crane breeding habitat

Saga of the Hooded Crane ABA
ABA Rare Hooded Crane in Indiana
A Hooded Crane and a Local Economy--Birding is Fun blog

Recent articles on wetland habitat conservation and the whooping crane:
Crane Count Murky as Cranes Search for Food--Feb 2012, San Antonio Bay, TX
Whooping Crane Survivors--Whooping Crane's role in preservation of Platte River habitat

Whooping crane and sandhill crane posts on this blog

Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge

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 FestivalHiwassee Wildlife Refuge and sandhill cranes.

At my companion blog, Vickie's Sketchbook:  Sandhill Cranes and Art
Whooping cranes in watercolor


  1. Here in our county in SW IN there are many little snatches of wetlands that are being helped back to their natural state. It is encouraging to see. I always wondered what the Farmers were thinking when they tried to drain these areas and plant them with crops becasue most were along rivers. Just crazy. I am sure all wildlife appreciate the work.

  2. Another marvelous lesson learned about these wonderful birds Vickie. Thank you for this!

  3. A very nice post.Habitats are being threatened around the world.I'm glad to see some positive actions happening.


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