Species of Special Concern

Grus canadensis canadensis and Grus canadensis tabida

Lesser Sandhill Crane and Greater Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Cranes are elegant, long-necked, long-legged birds of open grasslands and freshwater marshes. Only Greater Sandhill Cranes breed in California, nesting in high mountain meadows of the northern Sierra Nevada and Cascade Ranges and large high-desert meadows of northeastern California. On their wintering grounds in the Central Valley, Sandhill Cranes forage primarily on waste grain in corn, rice, and wheat fields.

They gather in large wintering flocks at traditional sites in Merced County, the Delta region, and the northern Sacramento Valley. Many of California’s winter population of 5,000 to 6,000 Greater Sandhill Cranes winter in the Butte Sink, where they forage primarily on rice (California Department of Fish and Game 2000b). The coastal segment of the Pacific Flyway population of Lesser Sandhill Crane (approximately 3,800 birds) leaves southeastern Alaska in the fall to winter in the rice fields and refuge systems in the northern Sacramento Valley from Red Bluff to southern Butte County.

The eastern segment of this population (approximately 25,000 birds) winters in corn stubble fields near Lodi and a variety of other habitats south to the Carrizo Plains in San Luis Obispo County (Littlefield 2008). Both subspecies wintering in the Sacramento Valley are entirely dependent on state and federal refuge lands and private agricultural lands for winter roosting and foraging habitat. Ricelands provide essential habitat for both subspecies of Sandhill Cranes. Waste grain provides an important food resource, and flooded rice fields are used as roosting sites (Pogsdon 1990).

The Greater Sandhill Crane is listed as threatened under California Endangered Species Act, primarily because of the loss of suitable breeding habitat, human disturbance, predation on the local breeding population in northeastern California, and the continued loss of winter foraging habitat (California Department of Fish and Game 2000b).

The Lesser Sandhill Crane is on the California Bird Species of Special Concern Priority 3 list, primarily because its foraging and loafing habitat in the Central Valley is rapidly being converted from grain crops to orchards, vineyards, and housing developments.

First Gallery: Brian Baer
Second Gallery: Leslie Morris

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