Sandhill crane: non-detriment finding

Published 2014-09-26

Re.: Grus canadensis (Sandhill Crane) Non-Detriment Finding for Canada

Summary of finding

Export of legally obtained Sandhill Crane is considered non-detrimental.

Supporting information

Biological characteristics

The Sandhill Crane is a large, long-legged wading bird that stands about one metre tall and has a wingspan of about two metres. Adults have grey plumage and long feathers that extend over the tail. The un-feathered forehead is red in colour. The beak is long, strong and sharp.

The Sandhill Crane can live 20 to 30 years in the wild. Individuals form pair bonds that are often life-long, and breed for the first time when they are between two to seven years of age. The female usually lays two eggs, although often only one chick survives, and both parents feed the young.

Sandhill Cranes are omnivorous, opportunistic feeders; they eat whatever is available, including insects, aquatic plants, grains, seeds, rodents, snakes and small birds. They use wetlands such as marshes and bogs extensively for all parts of their lifecycle. They prefer isolated habitats that have access to tall vegetation for hiding, although during their northward migration they are probably less sensitive to human presence than during nesting.

All of the Canadian Sandhill Crane are migratory. Each year in the spring, the Sandhill Cranes migrate to breeding grounds in Canada by following traditional migration flyways. The birds are resident in Canada during the spring, summer and fall months. The young are ready to fly south to the United States or Mexico soon after their first flight.


The range of Sandhill Crane extends across much of Canada and the United States, and into Russia (Siberia), Cuba and Mexico. The Sandhill Crane is the most numerous crane species in the world and the population is thought to comprise several hundred thousand individuals (652,500 to 715,300 birds). The species is considered Least Concern by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). Overall, the species is currently considered to have a large population size and increasing population trend.

The species occurs in nine of Canada's 13 provinces and territories, including Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario and Quebec, and is an "accidental" visitor in the four others (Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island). Its range in Canada appears to be increasing eastward through northern Ontario into Qu├ębec.

The majority of the Sandhill Crane population in the world breeds in Canada, and this breeding population is thought to number 400,000 to 500,000 birds. Of the six migratory populations that have been defined for management purposes, five occur in Canada and all are thought to be increasing in size. The largest, the Mid-Continent population, extends across nine provinces and territories in Canada.

The status of Sandhill Crane is not of concern in Canada. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), an arm's-length advisory body to government, assigned one subspecies a status of Not at Risk ("tabida" subspecies). The full species has not been assessed by COSEWIC and is not a priority concern for assessment. NatureServe, which assesses conservation status of species in the western hemisphere, has assigned the species a Conservation status as Demonstrably Secure (G5) in the world and Secure (N5) in Canada. Wild Species 2010: The General Status of Species in Canada, which provides a coarse-scale snapshot of the health of Canadian species, considers the species to be Secure in Canada.

The species suffered past population declines due to European settlement activities including hunting, agricultural expansion, drainage of wetlands and other changes in habitat. Today, key threats still include degradation and loss of wetland habitat and accordingly, the objectives in the management plans for each of the populations include provisions for maintainance and protection of habitats.

Sandhill Crane populations (management units), harvest status, population size goals, population sizes and 20-year trends. CA=Canada; MX= Mexico; US=United States.
Population NameFootnote* Harvested in its range? Population Size Goal Population Size EstimateFootnote** 20-year Population Trend
Pacific Coast
Pacific Flyway Population of Lesser Sandhill Cranes (PDF; 264 KB)
Yes (US) 20,000-25,000 20,000-25,000 Increase
Central Valley
Central Valley Population of Greater Sandhill Cranes (PDF; 1 MB)
No N/A (Not hunted) 5,000-7,000 Increase
Rocky Mountain
Management Plan of the Pacific and Central Flyways for the Rocky Mountain Population of Greater Sandhill Cranes (PDF; 623 KB)
Yes (US) 17,000-20,000 19,626 Increase
Management Guidelines for the Mid-Continent Population of Sandhill Cranes (PDF; 172 MB)
Yes (CA, US, MX) 349,000-472,000 579,863 Increase
Management Plan for the Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes (PDF; 363 KB)
Yes (US) 30,000-60,000 30,000+ Increase
Total - - 654,000 +
(400,000-500,000 in CA)

Sources: Tacha et al. 1992; management plans

Harvest management

As a migratory bird species, the Sandhill Crane is protected internationally by treaties between Canada, the United States and Mexico. Jointly, Canada and the United States adhere to the Migratory Birds Convention of 1916. The treaty allows for regulation (including prohibition) of hunting and other forms of direct exploitation. The United States and Mexico signed a similar Treaty for the Protection of Migratory Birds and Game Mammals, which addresses the migratory Sandhill Cranes shared between Mexico and the United States. Other treaties between the US and Russia serve to further expand the scope of international protection for this species.

The three primary range countries, Canada, the United States and Mexico, collaborate on Flyway Councils and Flyway Technical Committees to develop management plans for the migratory populations of Sandhill Crane. Management plans are developed and adopted for each of the flyways. The management plans assist cooperative management of migratory birds by providing guidance from a common set of goals and principles.

Harvest management for this species has a conservation goal of maintaining a certain population size. The management also allows for sustainable use when possible. For example, for the Mid-Continent Population, which is the largest Sandhill Crane population in Canada, the goal of management is to maintain population sizes within stated limits to provide diverse uses (scientific, recreational, aesthetic, educational, consumptive) that are consistent with the welfare of the population, international treaties, and socio-economic considerations such as the damage that large numbers of birds can cause to agricultural crops. Maintenance of viable natural wildlife stocks, consistent with available habitat, takes precedence over their use. This population is currently managed to maintain an estimated population size of 349,000-472,000 birds. The current population size is well above this goal.

Within Canada, Sandhill Crane is protected and managed under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994. Harvest of the Sandhill Crane is regulated under the Migratory Birds Regulations. Decisions about management and harvest in Canada are made by the federal government in cooperation with the provinces and territories of Canada, and in consultation with other stakeholders including the managers of the species in the United States, on a regular basis. Decisions are consistent with management plans. In the United States, hunting is regulated by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the associated Regulations.

Decades of coordinated, managed hunting for two populations of Sandhill Crane in Canada and the United States have established a significant precedent for sustainable harvest based on adaptive management.

Control of harvest

Federal Migratory Bird permits are issued for activities such as hunting, scientific work and taxidermy work. Provincial and territorial licences also are required to hunt Sandhill Crane in Canada.

Controls on hunting include periods during which birds may be hunted, geographic area, hunting methods and numbers of birds that may be hunted. Through the recognition of Aboriginal and Treaty rights under the Canadian constitution, Aboriginal peoples may also harvest Sandhill Cranes for traditional use, subject to limitations for conservation purposes if necessary. These types of regulatory controls help ensure harvest levels can be adjusted as required.

There are satisfactory levels of compliance with the permitting and regulatory harvest controls, and there is no indication that illegal killing or illegal trade are problematic.

Harvest trend

Only the Mid-Continent population of Sandhill Cranes is harvested in Canada. The long-term average annual continental harvest level for the Mid-Continent population of Sandhill Crane is 34,000 cranes (2000-2009). Canada's average annual share of the continental harvest is 9,200 cranes. In general, harvest levels have been increasing since the 1970s (14% increase), although actual levels of harvest are quite variable from year to year. In total, there was harvest of 31,354 cranes in 2011, which is about 5.5% of the estimated crane population (based on three-year average estimated population size from 2009-2011).

For other populations of Sandhill Crane, which are only harvested outside of Canada, harvest is within the guidelines established by the management plans. Harvest levels are designed to maintain a stable abundance within management goals.

Population and harvest monitoring

The species is monitored using a variety of surveys to help ensure the harvest will be sustainable. For example, one of the ways in which the Mid-Continent population is monitored annually is through a spring aerial transect survey along a migratory-stopover point in Nebraska, United States. The survey has been ongoing for decades.

Migratory bird licenses and permits are issued to control the harvest and movement of Sandhill Cranes (movement across international borders; "trade" in the CITES context), and are used as a registration system that allows hunters to be contacted for the purpose of monitoring harvest. Harvest monitoring is accomplished through annual surveys that are completed by hunters. These surveys provide information on harvest, hunting activity and age and sex composition of the harvested birds to help determine size and demographics of the population.

Sandhill Crane is primarily harvested for its meat and most of the international trade is from Canada to the United States by hunters taking home meat from birds that they hunted. On average over the last 10 years (2001-2011), 1500 birds have been exported from Canada to the United States each year. This corresponds to about 16% of the total harvest in Canada (from a total average harvest of 9,200 birds per year).

Overall, confidence in the Canadian harvest management and international trade management of Sandhill Crane is high, as the suite of measures including harvest management, control and monitoring allow for strict control of conservation, harvest and international trade. These measures are reactive to changing conditions, with the aim of ensuring sustainable harvest.

Incentives and benefits of harvest

Management of this species in Canada is a partnership between governments and harvesters. The economic benefits of hunting of migratory game birds (including Sandhill Crane) to hunters and the Canadian economy are considerable. Furthermore, hunters contribute financially as part of their licensing and permit fees, and through volunteer work, to habitat conservation for migratory game birds.

A sustainable long-term harvest is dependent on stable wildlife populations thereby promoting a stewardship attitude towards both the Sandhill Crane and its habitat.

Protection from harvest

The adaptive management framework for wildlife harvest management programs in Canada is very effective at preventing over-harvest of wildlife because restrictive measures can, and are, applied as necessary. All jurisdictions in Canada have the ability to close harvest in up to 100% of the species' range if necessary. Numerous protected areas exist within Canada, the United States and in Mexico and focus on protecting habitat at key wintering and migratory stopover points. Sandhill crane is managed to ensure long-term maintenance of populations within healthy limits and to provide for diverse uses of the species.

Additional information on sandhill crane in Canada

International exports of Sandhill Crane require permits under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), with one exception: Under the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA, Canada's implementing legislation for CITES), CITES export permits of Sandhill Crane from Canada to the United States are not required when Sandhill Cranes are transported between the two countries in a fresh, frozen or salted form and only when with a person as part of their personal baggage. The United States records and reports this information, which allows international trade monitoring. All other permits, certificates, and licences are still required and must be presented to customs at the border, including the permits required under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994. Additionally, one fully-feathered wing must be attached to the bird to allow confirmation of the species.

A number of crane species were listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) at the inception of the Convention in 1975, including Whooping Crane, which is found in Canada and two non-migratory subspecies of Sandhill Crane that occur in the United States and Cuba. A decade later, all other cranes, including the Sandhill Cranes that occur in Canada, were added in to Appendix II of CITES, because it was believed that listing of all cranes would help improve enforcement of the Convention for species traded internationally as live specimens to zoos or bird collections (e.g., Black-Crowned crane from Africa and Sarus Crane from India). The suite of Canadian controls and the types of product in trade (primarily as meat, and not as live animals), ensures that Canadian Sandhill Crane harvest and international trade do not pose a risk to these other crane species listed on Appendix I.

Other useful sources of information:

Environment Canada (monitoring, management, hunting regulations) Migratory Birds

International collaboration on management of Sandhill Cranes - General Flyways Info

IUCN Red List


Kruse, K.L., J.A. Dubovsky, and T.R. Cooper. 2011. Status and harvests of sandhill cranes: Mid-Continent, Rocky Mountain, Lower Colorado River Valley and Eastern Populations. Administrative Report, U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, Denver, Colorado. 12pp.

Tacha, T. C., S. A. Nesbitt and P. A. Vohs. 1992. Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)

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