KDFWR Commission approves proposed changes to Kentucky’s Sandhill season

Barren spar c_David L. Roemer

Sparring Sandhill Cranes in Barren County, Kentucky. Photo by David L. Roemer

With the approval by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) Commission (5 to 3 in favor of) on March 23, 2018, the amendment process will be the same as it was in 2011.  KDFWR will file the amended regulation with the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) in April (deadline is mid-April).  A public comment period will begin the May 1, 2018 when the LRC publishes the amended regulation.  Everyone will then have until the end of May to provide written comments.  There will also be instructions on a public hearing, if anyone would like to request one.  The Department has to treat both written comments and the public hearing exactly the same.  If public comments are received, then the Department would respond with a “Statement of Consideration” addressing questions or concerns raised by the public.  The amended Regulation would then go to the Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee for review by the legislature in either August or September.

Different than the last time around, Kentucky’s crane season is now an operational season and the frameworks for crane hunting are included in the federal rule which covers all migratory bird hunting.  Those frameworks, which allow for expanded hunting in Kentucky, have been part of the federal rule for several years now.  The 2018-2019 season was considered and approved by the USFWS Service Regulations Committee last October.  At this point, one course of action where USFWS is concerned is for individuals opposing the season changes to comment on the 2019-2020 season next Fall/Winter.

To read the Federal Register Proposed Rules – (50 CFR Part 20; [Docket No. FWS–HQ–MB–2017–0028; FF09M21200–178–FXMB1231099BPP0]; RIN 1018–BB73 Migratory Bird Hunting; Proposed Frameworks for Migratory Bird Hunting Regulations
go here: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2018-02-02/pdf/2018-02112.pdf

Specifics for the Kentucky Sandhill season can be found in the PDF as follows:

Proposed Regulations Frameworks for 2018-19 Hunting Seasons on Certain Migratory Game Birds (starting on page 8 of the pdf) 

(Then on pages 13-14 of the pdf)
Sandhill Cranes 
Regular Seasons in the Mississippi Flyway

Outside Dates: Between September 1 and February 28 in Minnesota, and between September 1 and January 31 in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Hunting Seasons: A season not to exceed 37 consecutive days may be selected in the designated portion of northwestern Minnesota (Northwest Goose Zone), and a season not to exceed 60 consecutive days in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Daily Bag Limit: 1 sandhill crane in Minnesota, 2 sandhill cranes in Kentucky, and 3 sandhill cranes in Tennessee. In Kentucky and Tennessee, the seasonal bag limit is 3 sandhill cranes.

Permits: Each person participating in the regular sandhill crane seasons must have a valid Federal or State sandhill crane hunting permit.

Other Provisions: The number of permits (where applicable), open areas, season dates, protection plans for other species, and other provisions of seasons must be consistent with the management plans and approved by the Mississippi Flyway Council. “


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Contact your District Commissioner about changes to the Kentucky Sandhill season

Sandhill Crane_Cecilia-Hardin Co KY_9 February 2017_2H6A0562

Sandhill Crane at Cecilia, Hardin Co., Kentucky, 9 February 2017.  Photo by Mary W. Yandell

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) is now considering a proposal to expand the Sandhill Crane hunting season. The KDFWR Wildlife Committee has forwarded the suggested changes to the full Commission which will consider them during its meeting March 23, 2018.

If you would like to share your opinion on the proposed changes to the Kentucky Sandhill season, now is the time to do so. Call or write your Commissioner prior to the meeting (see listing below for your area district Commissioner information). While speaking directly to your district Commissioner might be more impactful than letters, feel free to call and write. Please be courteous.

To read more about the proposed changes in the February 19, 2018 Courier-Journal article by James Bruggers, go here:

KDFWR 2018 District Commissioner Members:


Dr. Harry W. Carloss

Email: hwcarloss@gmail.com
(First District Counties: Ballard, Caldwell, Calloway, Carlisle, Christian, Crittenden, Fulton, Graves, Hickman, Livingston, Lyon, McCracken, Marshall, Trigg)

C.F. “Frank” Williams
270/821-6392, Ext. 205
Email: fwilliams@rjaengineering.com
(Second District Counties: Allen, Butler, Daviess, Hancock, Henderson, Hopkins, Logan, McLean, Muhlenberg, Ohio, Simpson, Todd, Union, Warren, Webster)

Russell (Rusty) Gailor
Email: gailordvm@aol.com
(Third District Counties: Breckinridge, Bullitt, Jefferson, Meade, Oldham, Shelby, Spencer)

Kenny L. Knott
(270) 407-3330
Email: doublek1960@hotmail.com
(Fourth District Counties: Adair, Barren, Cumberland, Edmonson, Grayson, Green, Hardin, Hart, Larue, Marion, Metcalfe, Monroe, Nelson, Taylor, Washington)

Kevin R. Bond
Email: kevinbond7660@gmail.com
(Fifth District Counties: Boone, Bracken, Campbell, Carroll, Gallatin, Grant, Harrison, Henry, Kenton, Owen, Pendleton, Robertson, Trimble)

Jimmy B. Bevins
Email: jimmy.bevins@bevinsgroup.net
(Sixth District Counties: Anderson, Boyle, Casey, Clark, Estill, Fayette, Franklin, Garrard, Jessamine, Lee, Lincoln, Madison, Mercer, Powell, Rockcastle, Scott, Woodford)

Paul Horn
Email: paulhorn@bigsandybb.com
(Seventh District Counties: Breathitt, Floyd, Johnson, Harlan, Knott, Lawrence, Leslie, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, Owsley, Perry, Pike)

Rich Storm
Email: ristorm@yahoo.com
(Eighth District Counties: Bath, Bourbon, Boyd, Carter, Elliott, Fleming, Greenup, Lewis, Mason, Menifee, Montgomery, Morgan, Nicholas, Rowan, Wolfe)

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Proposed Changes to Kentucky Sandhill Season

Sandhill Cranes_Cecilia-Hardin Co KY_9 February 2017_2H6A0536

Sandhill Cranes at Cecilia, Hardin Co. Kentucky,  9 February 2017.  Photo by Mary W. Yandell

After 7 years of following guidelines set in the  Kentucky Department of  Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) experimental season, the wildlife division plans to recommend to the full Commission six changes to the season.  These proposed changes were considered by the Wildlife Committee on February 9 and will be presented to the full Commission for a vote on March 23, 2018.

“While these changes represent some liberalization, they still follow the guidelines set in a very conservative EP crane management plan.  As before, we expect no impact of these changes on the population or on viewing opportunity in Kentucky,” said John H Brunjes, Migratory Bird Program Coordinator for KDFWR .

A  KDFWR summary of the proposed changes is below:

1)      Move the application period to September.

  • Current application period is November 15-30.  This creates a real challenge for us to get drawing done and get everyone tags mailed before hunting starts two weeks later.  It forces us to mail tags before people have completed online test and have actual permit.  We would like to have application period September 1-30 with a drawing in early October.  People would then have to complete the online test before tags are mailed to them.

2)      Create a no crane hunting zone in Green River Lake.

  • Last winter and again this winter, several hundred SACR showed up and roosted on Green River Lake.  They were there for about a week before they left.  We suspect they were shot on the lake and abandoned the roost.  In a method similar to the Barren River Protected area, we would create a refuge area for cranes by closing crane hunting portions of Green River Lake.  Having another roost area would provide additional viewing and hunting opportunity.  We suspect this will become a regular revision to this regulation as the population continues to grow.  There were brief stops by cranes at Lake Cumberland and Taylorsville Lake and if those continue we would protect those areas as well.

3)      Remove the 400 crane closure.

  • The 400 bird closure was a conservative measure added to our experimental season plan as a fail-safe in case our predictions about harvest and how hunting would go were wrong.  After 7 seasons without exceeding a 200 crane harvest; having to check each day to see if the season is closed is unnecessary burden on our hunters.  Additionally, because we have gone so long without reaching the 400 bird mark, we fear hunters are not checking to see if the season is closed.  If we ever did reach 400 birds and close the season, we fear hunters could continue hunting and be cited.  The Eastern population of sandhill cranes is now well over 100k birds.  The removal of the 400-bird closure would not have any meaningful impact on the population.

4)      Change number of tags available to Kentucky hunters.

  • The EP Sandhill Crane plan endorsed by the Mississippi and Atlantic flyways and USFWS allows states to issue tags based on a 5-year average of crane numbers in that state.  A state may issue up to 10% of that 5-year average.  Currently Kentucky is issuing 800 tags of the allowable 1,453 tags based on our 5-year average of 14,526 cranes.  We propose changing from a fixed 800 to issuing the 1,453 allowed by the management plan.

5)      Change number of applicants receiving permits

  • Currently we issue a fixed number of permits (400).  Before last season, we had not had more than 400 applicants so it had not really been a concern.  For the 2016-2017 season, there were 415 applicants so 15 people did not get a permit.  For the 2017-2018 season, there were 565 applicants so 30% of those that applied will not get a permit.  We propose a new system where everyone that applies gets randomly selected in a drawn order.  Each person gets a permit with one tag up to the allowable number of tags to be issued for that season.  That way everyone would at least 1 tag.  Any tags that were not used in the initial allocation of 1 tags per hunter would be allocated out to drawn hunters in order of draw.  Using this season as an example, all 565 applicants would be issued permits and all would receive a second tag for a total of 1130 of the 1453 allowable tags.  The first 323 people drawn would receive a third tag so that we issue all 1453 tags.

6)      Make the season concurrent with the second segment of duck season (The 56 days prior to the last Sunday in January)

  • Under the Eastern Population Crane management plan, Kentucky may have a 60 day season between September 1 and January 31.  Split seasons are not allowed.  We propose making the SACR season concurrent with the second waterfowl season (a 56-day season) in Kentucky.  This simplifies regulations for migratory bird hunters and provides additional opportunity for our hunters.  The biggest hurdle faced by hunters is the access to private land.  A longer season increases the likelihood someone could gain access to hunting areas.

According to USFWS, the eastern population of Sandhills continues to  expand.  When KDFWR began consideration of a hunting season, the 3-year average was 46,000 cranes counted in the fall survey.  Today, that average count exceeds 90,000 cranes.  Because it is a one day count, and not an estimate, the department biologists say it represents a conservative minimum population size.  Telemetry data tells biologists that at least 20% of the population is being missed in the surveys.  Reproduction surveys consistently show that >10% of the cranes passing thru Kentucky are young of the year.  These results are mirrored by work of the USFWS at Jasper-Pulaski.  According to USFWS, a dramatic expansion of breeding ranges has been seen and now in many areas Eastern Population Sandhill cranes nest side by side with mid-continent cranes.


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Reward climbs to $15,600


Yesterday the  Center for Biological Diversity  added $5,000 to the reward for information leading to a conviction or fine in the latest illegal killing of #4-11, an endangered Whooping Crane in Indiana.

“It’s a sad injustice to all of us that someone would gun down this beautiful, endangered bird,” said Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist with the Center. “This shooting reminds us that Whooping Cranes still face many threats to their survival and recovery.”

“We’re adding to this reward because Whooping Cranes are a critical part of America’s heritage, and we shouldn’t let a few killers deny future generations their opportunity to see these animals in the wild,” Adkins said.

Since then, others have also stepped forward to donate, bringing the reward to $15,600.

Read the Center for Biological Diversity press release here.


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$10,000 reward for info leading to arrest and conviction in Greene Co. Whooper shooting death


Female Whooping Crane #14-11. Photographed in early 2016 by Bob Herndon.

Indiana Conservation Officers have partnered with Indiana Turn in a Poacher (T.I.P.), Friends of Goose Pond, the International Crane Foundation and Operation Migration to offer a substantial reward of $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for killing female Whooping Crane #4-11 in Greene County, Indiana in early January.

On January 3, 2017 an International Crane Foundation volunteer found the crane near Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area. It is thought she was killed with a high powered rifle but her remains were sent to the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon for further testing.

The following conservation organizations have come together to offer the $10,000 reward:

  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service – $2,500
  • Friends of Goose Pond’s board members – $2,500
  • The International Crane Foundation – $1,000
  • Indiana Turn in a Poacher (T.I.P.) – $500
  • Operation Migration – $3,500

“Reintroducing an endangered species takes money, hard work, luck and expertise. I was privileged to fly alongside #4-11 and to help teach her to migrate. She survived on her own and made five trips south in the fall and back north in the spring. She found a mate and even produced a chick. Then to have someone waste all that time, effort and such a beautiful bird for nothing more that the pleasure of the kill is a selfish, wasteful tragedy,” said Operation Migration’s Joe Duff.

Indiana Conservation Officers are collaborating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to investigate this crime.

If you have information about this case please contact the Indiana Conservation Officer Dispatch at 812-837-9536.

If you would like to contribute towards the reward offered go here:
www.operationmigration.org or, contact Heather Ray at heather@operationmigration.org

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DNR asks public for help to stop shootings of EMP Whoopers – 5 deaths in Indiana attributed to poaching


Whooping Crane No. 4-11 found dead January 5, 2017 along Indiana 67 in Greene County Indiana. Photo by Indiana DNR

January 2017: Female No. 4-11, shot and killed

Indiana Department of Natural Resources officials reported that the remains of No. 4-11, a 5-year old female Whooping Crane of the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP), were found January 5, 2017 in a field along Indiana 67 near the Goose Pond State Fish and Wildlife Area. State officials say preliminary evidence suggests the crane was shot during the New Year’s Day weekend.  In February 2014 Direct Autumn Release (DAR) Whooping Crane No.35-09 was shot and killed in the same area as No. 4-11. At this time it is not known whether the two poachings are related.


No. 4-11 with her colt W3-16. Photo by Hillary Thompson

Female No. 4-11 successfully hatched her first chick, W3-16, on May 3, 2016 and proved herself to be a good parent when she continued to raise the colt alone after the unexpected death of her mate on their nesting grounds. She and W3-16 were seen during a July 15 aerial survey, but the colt was not seen on July 27 and later was presumed dead.

After leaving Wisconsin, 4-11 migrated to her wintering area at the Goose Pond FWA in mid-December. Goose Pond is now considered a critical wintering area for this eastern population of reintroduced Whooping Cranes, and due to the high concentration of Whoopers found there, 4-11 would likely have re-paired in preparation for the upcoming breeding season.

This latest death brings to a total of  FIVE cranes shot and killed by poachers in Indiana since 2009:
2017: No. 4-11, Greene Co., IN
2014: No. 35-09, Greene Co., IN
2012: No. 27-08, Knox Co., IN
2011: No. 6-05, Jackson Co., IN
2009: No. 17-02 Vermillion Co., IN

Anyone with any information about the poaching is asked to please contact the Indiana Conservation Officer Dispatch at 812-837-9536. In addition to the Endangered Species Act, Whooping Cranes are protected by state laws and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Read more from the International Crane Foundation here:

Learn about No. 4-11’s history here: http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/crane/11/BandingCodes1104.html


February 2014: Direct Autumn Release female No. 35-09, shot and killed


Photo of No.35-09 as a colt. Photo by Marianne Wellington/Journey North

During the Fall/Winter 2013-2014 biologists replaced both non-functioning transmitters on female No.35-09. She was thought to be with a group of Whooping Cranes reported in Rutherford County, Tennessee on January 24, 2014 and in a group of seven reported in Franklin County, TN on January 29,2014.  Then, during an aerial survey flight on February 12, 2014, her signal was picked up along the White River, south of Lyons in Greene County, Indiana.  When no visual confirmation of No. 35-09 was possible, officials used the electronic signal emitted by a tag that had been previously placed around her neck to eventually locate where her remains had been hidden. Her carcass was collected from that location on February 19, 2014.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources TIP Advisory Board announced a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible.
Learn about No. 35-09’s history here:
http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/crane/09/BandingCodes935D.htmlLearn more about the “Direct Autumn Release (DAR)” program here:

January 2012: Male No. 27-08, shot and killed


Male No. 27-08. Photo by Eva Szyszkoski, International Crane Foundation

Whooping Crane No. 27-08 was shot and killed in early January 2012 in Knox County, Indiana. In May 2012 charges were brought against Jason R. McCarter, 21 of Wheatland and John C. Burke, 23 of Monroe City, Illinois after officials received information in mid-January that a Whooping Crane had been spotlighted at night then shot and killed with a high-powered rifle. Suspects were identified during a joint investigation by multiple law enforcement agencies, wildlife biologists and private individuals.

Jason McCarter filed a guilty plea agreement for violating the Migratory Bird Act by taking or killing a migratory bird, thus avoiding a criminal trial. The plea agreement included 3 years probation during which he could not hunt, possess or use a firearm or alcohol. In addition to 120 hours of community service to be served at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area he had to pay a $5,000 fine to the International Crane Foundation.

Learn about No. 27-08’s history here:



December 2011: Male No. 6-05, shot and killed


No. 6-05 with seven juvenile DAR Whooping Cranes in Louisville, Jefferson Co., KY in 2011.

Whooping Crane male No. 6-05 (or #506) and seven 2009 Direct Autumn Release (DAR) juveniles spent several days in Jefferson Co., Kentucky before moving on to Adair Co., KY on February 12 or 13, 2011. They stayed there through February 28. In Fall 2011 No. 6-05 migrated with DAR female #37-09 to Jackson Co., IN where he was later killed. His carcass was found on December 30 by a local photographer monitoring the cranes near the Muscatatuck River basin about 40 miles north of Louisville, KY.  X-rays showed a fatal gunshot wound caused the bird’s death. A reward was offered for any information leading to prosecution of the shooter of the federally endangered bird.

Learn more about Whooping Crane No. 6-05’s (#506’s) history here:

Read more here: https://kyc4sandhillcranes.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/tribtown-whooper-shot_31-dec-2011.png


Late November 2009: Female No. 17-02, shot and killed


Whooping Crane eastern reintroduction program “matriarch” No. 17-02 (right), with mate No. 11-02 in March 2008. Photo by Russ Allison

On Saturday, November 28, 2009 Whooping Crane, female No. 17-02 (#217) and her mate, No. 11-02 were observed together at one of their previously used stopovers in Vermillion Co., Indiana by Eva Szyszkoski, International Crane Foundation (ICF) Tracking Field Manager. It is thought No.17-02 was killed soon after this sighting because on Tuesday, December 1 ICF tracking intern Jess Thompson found her carcass.  A victim of senseless joy-killing by poachers.

Her death was especially devastating to the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes reintroduction program as she was the seven-year old mother of “Wild-1,” the first wild-hatched Whooping Crane to survive and fledge to migrate. She and her mate nested during each of the past 5 springs on Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. They hatched two chicks and fledged one (No. W1-06) in 2006, and they hatched one chick in 2009. The pair was known as the “first family” of the new Eastern flock, with No. 17-02 considered the “matriarch” of the program. Her death was a major loss for the reintroduction considering there were approximately 100 cranes in the eastern population at that time.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources conservation officers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents conducted a joint investigation into the incident with a citizen tip leading to the arrest of the poachers. Wade Bennett of Cayuga, Indiana pled guilty and was sentenced on March 30, 2011, for his involvement in the shooting of Whooping Crane No. 17-02 in Vermillion County, Indiana. Unfortunately, Bennett and the juvenile received the bare minimum in sentencing – $1.00 fine, one year probation and minor additional fees. The sentence in no way reflected the enormous amount of time, energy and expense invested by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP)International Crane Foundation, Operation Migration and other organizations needed to raise a single Whooping Crane to migration age.

Learn about the history of No. 17-02 here:

Volunteer information from a local citizen was instrumental on closing the case:

Learn about W1-06 (W601), the first wild-hatched Whooping Crane to survive and the first second-generation Whooping crane to successfully make the migration south here:

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TN Wildlife Resources Agency seeks public comment on 2017-2018 Sandhill Crane hunting season


According to a source at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), the Mississippi Flyway Council met in late August where they voted on and submitted recommendations to USFWS regarding frameworks for the 2017-18 hunting seasons and bag limits, based on this year’s population and harvest data.  The recommendations also included a request for operational status of Tennessee’s Sandhill Crane hunting season (now entering its fourth  year “experimental” season). The Service Regulation Committee considers the  Flyways recommendations and will publish a set of proposed frameworks in the Federal Register. At that time, the USFWS will accept public comment on the proposed frameworks.  Shortly after the comment period, they will make any necessary adjustments to the frameworks and then finalize them.  These become the overall set of “rules” under which each state can establish their hunting seasons.

The deadline for your comments to TWRA is November 15, 2016.

The following is the TWRA press release:

“The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is soliciting comments for its 2017-18 waterfowl and other migratory bird hunting regulations, including sandhill cranes. This is an opportunity for the public to provide ideas and share concerns about hunting regulations with TWRA staff. The comment period is open Oct. 15-Nov. 15, 2016.

Due to recent changes in the timing of the federal regulation process, waterfowl and other migratory game bird hunting seasons are now proposed to the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission at its January meeting and voted upon at its February meeting.

Public comments will be considered by TWRA’s Wildlife Division staff and may be presented as proposals for regulation changes. Comments may be submitted by mail to: 2017-18 Hunting Season Comments, TWRA, Wildlife and Forestry Division, P.O. Box 40747, Nashville, TN 37204 or emailed to twra.comment@tn.gov. Please include “Waterfowl Season Comments” on the subject line of emailed submissions.”

Additional information: The number of permits issued for 2017-2018 TN hunting season remains the same as the 2015-2016 season, 400 permits – 3 cranes per permit. However, the 2016-2017 season has been extended from 28 days to 53 days. The hunt zone also remains in  southeastern Tennessee – South of Interstate 40 and east of State Highway 56. Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge is within this zone. The hunt will be stopped only for the weekend of the annual Sandhill Crane Festival. With the issuance of the new rules there is the distinct possibility that the  hunt will be extended statewide, with an increase in both the number of permits issued and the number of cranes allowed to be killed.


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Changes to the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership: Q&A

Whooping Crane_photo by Ryan Hagerty USFWS

Whooping Crane/photo by Ryan Hagerty (USFWS)

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) is a group of non-profit organizations and government and state agencies formed to restore a migratory population of Whooping Cranes to eastern North America.  WCEP is just one element of a diverse strategy to save Whooping Cranes from extinction.

On January 22, 2016, USFWS announced recommendations modifying WCEP’s methods for Whooping Crane rearing and release. While the program was successful in building the number of migrating Whooping Cranes in the eastern U.S., very few of the cranes were successfully breeding. Therefore, USFWS made the decision to shift the focus from rearing chicks “artificially” with costumed handlers, to early contact and learning with adult Whooping Cranes.

Recently the International Crane Foundation (ICF) answered questions about these  changes and what they mean for Whooping Cranes and our investment in the species and the International Cane Foundation. Following is a list of the questions covered:

  • What is “WCEP” and what is the International Crane Foundation’s role in this partnership?
  • What is WCEP’s goal? Is it actually achievable?
  • What changes in crane releases did the USFWS recommend for WCEP?
  • Who made the decision to end the ultralight migrations and why?
  • Do these changes from USFWS mean something went wrong with the WCEP project?
  • What’s next for the International Crane Foundation and Whooping Cranes?

To read ICF’s post of the Questions and Answers please click here.  Or, to contact ICF with any further questions please click here.


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4th Wheeler NWR Festival of the Cranes a success

Whooping Cranes at Wheeler NWR Decatur AL_10 Jan 2016_2H6A0761_MWYandell

Whooping Cranes seen from the refuge observation building, left to right: #18-11 “Nougat,” #27-14, #1-11, DAR #59-13 “Latka,” and juv. #14-15

This year, approximately 4,500 individuals attended the 4th annual Wheeler NWR Festival of the Cranes, in Decatur, Alabama the weekend of January 9th – 10th, 2016.

Hope the ICF Whooping Crane and Lizzie Condon

Lizzie Condon, “I Give a Whoop” coordinator, with ICF’s new Whooping Crane mascot, “Hope.”

What easier way to learn about North America’s rarest and tallest bird then at the Wheeler Festival of Cranes? Organizers offered a wide variety of events and programs that included art exhibits, sunrise breakfast at the Refuge, nature walks, children’s activities, painting and nature photography lessons, learning how to dance like a crane, a film premiere about the life of Rachel Carson, a keynote presentation by George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation (ICF), guest appearances by President Theodore Roosevelt (portrayed by Joe Wiegand); Auburn University’s Southeastern Raptor Center presentations and the opportunity to meet ICF’s “Hope,” a 7-foot tall Whooping Crane “Muppet.”

For many, however, the most exciting part of the weekend was getting to observe 5 Whooping Cranes that stayed within sight of the refuge observation building the entire weekend.  It was a great festival so mark your calendars for next year!

1-11 and Latka 59-13_Wheeler NWR_10 January 2016_2H6A0748_MWYandell

Whooping Cranes UL #1-11 and DAR #59-13, “Latka” walk over to join the other Whoopers.

Wheeler NWR and Whooping Cranes

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, located along the Tennessee River between Huntsville and Decatur, was established in 1938 to provide habitat for wintering and migrating birds. Considered the easternmost Refuge in the Mississippi flyway, this 35,000-acre Refuge attracts thousands of wintering waterfowl each year.

The Refuge is made up of a wide diversity of habitat types such as bottomland hardwoods, wetlands, pine uplands, agricultural fields, and backwater embayments. This varied habitat provides excellent feeding, loafing, and roosting sites for waterfowl, as well as nesting sites for migrating songbirds.

In January of 2006, two Whoopers from one of the Operation Migration cohorts were discovered on Wheeler NWR.  Since then, Whooping Cranes have wintered there each year. During the winter of 2012-2013, up to 12 Whoopers spent a portion of their winter on the refuge. In recent years, they have frequented areas around the visitor center and wildlife observation building, allowing thousands of refuge visitors the opportunity to view them and learn their amazing story.

The International Crane Foundation (ICF) works to protect Whooping Cranes from threats like fresh water shortages, wetland destruction, power line collisions, illegal shootings, and more.  According to ICF’s Lizzie Condon, Keeping Whooping Cranes Safe Coordinator, last winter, a total of 36 whooping cranes were spotted in Alabama before the birds began their northward migration in March and April. This year she hopes the total will be more than 40. Simply by attending the Wheeler NWR Festival of the Cranes, an individual helps protect Whooping Cranes by showing their support for the cranes in the north Alabama region.

“I think Alabama’s really lucky in that you do have a very good public viewing site for Whooping Cranes,” said Condon.  “In Texas people pay to take boats to go see them, but here you can just roll into the parking lot at Wheeler and there they are.”

PR 14-15_Wheeler NWR Decatur AL_10 Jan 2016_2H6A0739_MWYandell

PR27-14_1-11_PR14-15_Wheeler NWR Decatur AL_10 Jan 2016_2H6A0767_MWYandell

Juvenile #14-15 (female) joining Sandhills, and with adult Whoopers #27-14 and #1-11, as seen from the Wheeler NWR observation building.    Photos by Mary W. Yandell

Who were those Whoopers attending the Festival?

During this year’s festival five Whooping Cranes, among thousands of Sandhill Cranes, were visible at any given time from the wildlife observation building. Refuge staff are able to identify the individual Whoopers by the color-coded bands on both legs – color combinations unique to each crane.

PR14-15_Wheeler NWR Decatur AL_10 Jan 2016_2H6A0698_MWYandell

Parent-reared (PR) juv. #14-15 with Sandhills

The five Whooping Cranes seen during the festival represented three different programs used in the reintroduction of the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes:

Ultralight-led migration: Captive-born chicks learned the migration route following Operation Migration’s ultralight planes. Sadly, the just ended 2015-16 migration was the last for this program.

Direct Autumn Release (DAR) program: In the fall, captive-born chicks are released on Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in the company of older cranes from whom the young birds will hopefully learn the migration route.

Parent-reared (PR) program: Captive-born chicks are each released near a wild crane pair in hopes the pair will “adopt” the chick and lead it on migration. This part of the Whooping Crane reintroduction program began in 2013.

Learn about the life history of the Whooping Cranes seen during the festival by clicking on the following links: DAR #18-11 “Nougat” (male); Parent-reared (PR) #27-14 (female); Ultralight #1-11 (male); DAR #59-13 “Latka” (female); Parent-reared (PR) #14-15 (juvenile female)

To learn more about Whooping Cranes, join in protecting them, and take the “I Give a Whoop” pledge please visit www.savingcranes.org.

To learn the life story of each Whooping Crane in the eastern migratory population click here: http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/crane/SurvivalResearch.html

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Accused shooter of 2 Whooping Cranes pleads not guilty

The International Crane Foundation submitted comments to the United States Attorney scheduled to hear the case of the accused shooter of two Endangered Whooping Cranes killed on January 11, 2016 in Beaumont, Texas (click here to read ICF’s full statement).

“The non-migratory, reintroduced population of Whooping Cranes that lives in Louisiana has had the highest shooting rate of any of the populations, with 8 Whooping Cranes being poached since the reintroduction began in 2011. The number includes the two Whooping Cranes illegally shot on January 10 of this year. At the end of 2015, there were just 46 birds in the Louisiana flock, with 3 considered “long term missing” but not yet declared dead.…the recent shooting of the 2 Whooping Cranes represents a loss of more than 4% of the entire flock.” 
                                                                 – from the ICF statement submitted to the U.S. Attorney

The accused shooter, Trey Joseph Frederick, was arraigned on Monday, January 25, 2016 and pleaded not guilty to the charges of shooting and killing the two endangered Whooping Cranes.  Representatives of the International Crane Foundation were in court attendance and asked that Frederick be prosecuted to the fullest extent to deter future perpetrators of shooting crimes.

Photo by AP

Photo by Associated Press

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