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June 4, 2010                                                                                                                                rtollefson@audubon.org

Rare Bird Sighted in the Kern River Valley

A Sandhill Crane was spotted in the South Fork Kern River Valley next to the Audubon Kern River Preserve on Thursday, June 3, 2010 by a team of researchers from the Southern Sierra Research Station. This is an extremely rare sighting; it has been more than 35 years since the last crane was sighted in the Kern River Valley and the first summer sighting.

Migratory Sandhill Cranes return to their breeding territories hundreds to thousands of miles north of their wintering grounds generally in mid-spring. There are two subspecies of Sandhill Crane found on the west coast; Greater (Grus canadensis tabida) and Lesser (Grus canadensis canadensis). Greater Sandhill Cranes nest in northeastern California, Oregon, and Washington 7 April-4 July 1 May. They nest as far south as Sierra County north of Lake Tahoe.

Feeding: When foraging, prefers open shortgrass plains, grain fields, and open wetlands (Grinnell and Miller 1944). Moist sites commonly used, but also feeds on dry plains far from water. Feeds on grasses, forbs, especially cereal crops (newly planted or harvested); also uses long bill to probe in soil for roots, tubers, seeds, grains, earthworms, and insects. Larger prey, such as mice, small birds, snakes, frogs, and crayfish also are taken. These are ripped into small pieces before being consumed (Terres 1980). Fruits and berries are eaten if available (Eckert and Karalus 1981).
Cover: Roosts at night in flocks standing in moist fields or in shallow water (Terres 1980). Also roosts in expansive, dry grasslands, island sites, and wide sandbars (Johnsgard 1975a, Eckert and Karalus 1981).G. c. canadensis approx. 450,000 Probably stable. Unknown due to difficulty in distinguishing from Lesser Sandhills;
probably stable.
G. c. tabida 65-75,000 Increasing rapidly in the eastern portion of its range. Generally stable elsewhere. Some western populations may be declining.

The 6000-6800 cranes in the Central Valley population breed mainly in south-central and southeastern Oregon and northeastern California, with additional breeding areas up to southern British Columbia and Vancouver Island (Pogson 1990, Pogson and Lindstedt 1991). In the winter, these cranes migrate to the Central and Imperial Valleys of California (Lewis 1977, Littlefield and Thompson 1979). This population is believed to be increasing.

Activity Patterns: Yearlong, diurnal activity. Roosts at night and flies to feeding areas in flocks (Terres 1980). Migrates by night and day (Eckert and Karalus 1981).
SeasonalMovements/Migration: Breeding population from north of California passes southward through the state in September and October and northward in March and April, and many individuals spend the winter. Travels in great flocks. Migration is rapid and direct; flies both night and day and stops only for short periods to feed and rest. California breeding population winters chiefly in the Central Valley.
Home Range: In Florida, Nesbitt (1976) recorded 3 home ranges 1 June to 1 August, averaging 460 ha (1137 ac); individuals moved an average of 8.5 km (5.3 mi) per day within home range. Migrants sometimes range as far as 8 km (5 mi) daily from roost to feed (Walkinshaw 1973).

In northern areas, breeding territories may still be snow-covered when sandhill cranes arrive. Lesser sandhill cranes returning to Alaska may encounter frozen lakes and rivers [16,91] or snow >10 inches (25 cm) deep [91].Lesser Alaska 23 May- 6 August 15 June

Resources

Beedy, E., 2008. SANDHILL CRANE: Grus canadensis, DISTRIBUTION, ABUNDANCE, AND SEASONALITY. California Wildlife Habitat Relationships System California Department of Fish and Game California Interagency Wildlife Task Group.

Shuford, W. D., and Gardali, T., editors. 2008. California Bird Species of Special Concern: A ranked assessment of species, subspecies, and distinct populations of birds of immediate conservation concern in California. Studies of Western Birds. Species Account: Lesser Sandhill Crane. Western Field Ornithologists, Camarillo, California, and California Department of Fish and Game, Sacramento.

Zeiner, D.C., W.F.Laudenslayer, Jr., K.E. Mayer, and M. White, eds. 1988-1990. California's Wildlife. Vol. I-III. California Depart. of Fish and Game, Sacramento, California.

 

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