Periodic Status Review for the Sandhill Crane in Washington (2017)


Published: January 2017

Pages: 30

Author(s): Derek W. Stinson

Executive Summary

The Sandhill Crane was listed as an endangered species by the state of Washington in 1981. Sandhill Cranes are represented in the state by a small number (<100) of Greater Sandhills that breed in Klickitat and Yakima Counties, much larger numbers of Lesser Sandhills (~25,000) that stop in eastern Washington during migration, and Canadian Sandhills (up to 3,000-5,000) seasonally present on lower Columbia River bottomlands. Most of the cranes seen in Washington winter in California, but up to 1,400 Canadian Sandhills have wintered on the lower Columbia bottomlands of Washington and Oregon in recent years. The Greater Sandhill Cranes that breed in Washington are part of the Central Valley Population, so called because they winter in California's Central Valley; most of this population nests in Oregon, northeastern California, and interior British Columbia; those that breed in British Columbia migrate through eastern Washington among large flocks of Lesser Sandhill Cranes. These migrating Lesser Sandhills of the Pacific Flyway Population stop during spring on their way to breeding grounds in Alaska, and during fall on their way to wintering areas in California. The Pacific group of Canadian Sandhills that is seasonally present on lower Columbia River bottomlands may be the smallest discrete migrant population of Sandhills.

Historical accounts suggest cranes once bred more widely in Washington. Crane numbers were severely reduced due to market hunting, particularly on the wintering grounds, and widespread habitat loss with Euro-American settlement and agricultural conversion. The species was extirpated as a breeder from the state after 1941. Cranes resumed summering in Klickitat County in the 1970s. Nesting was confirmed there in 1979, and they have steadily increased since then. The known summer population in Washington in 2016 was 37 territorial pairs and a total of 98 birds. Most of the crane nesting occurs on and around Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in the Glenwood Valley.

Factors potentially affecting Washington's Sandhill Cranes include water availability and management, habitat loss and degradation at staging and wintering areas. Crane use of breeding sites is also affected by human disturbance. Public lands, including refuges and wildlife areas, private hunting clubs and agricultural lands in the Columbia Basin, and on the lower Columbia River, provide essential staging and wintering habitat for Pacific Flyway cranes. Crane habitat, particularly on the lower Columbia bottomlands between Vancouver and Woodland, is affected by industrial development and conversion of agricultural lands to incompatible crops and uses.

A state recovery plan was completed in 2002. Effective water management control at Conboy Lake NWR was a recovery objective, and this situation is much improved. The breeding population has been increasing, and may be expanding to nest in isolated meadows in the Cascades, but additional survey efforts will be required to determine if and where this is occurring. Current recovery objectives for downlisting from endangered to threatened call for a breeding population of at least 65 territorial pairs with an average annual recruitment rate of >8%, although these objectives may be revised if the recovery plan is updated. With a breeding population of <40 pairs and <100 individuals, essential staging and wintering habitat threatened by development or incompatible uses, the mix of Greater and Lesser subspecies at stopover sites during migration, and the similarity of appearance of all three subspecies, it is recommended the species remain on the Washington list of endangered species.

Suggested citation

Stinson, D. W. 2017. Periodic status review for the Sandhill Crane. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympia, Washington. 22 + iii pp.

Draft documents

Draft documents are provided for informational purposes only. Drafts may contain factual inaccuracies and may not reflect current WDFW policy.