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Spring Survey Sees Sandhill Crane Comeback in Ohio

Sandhill Crane Flock

The Sandhill Crane is one of the only crane species on the planet to be considered “stable” conservation-wise. Sandhill Cranes are neither threatened nor endangered, unlike North America’s only other crane species, the federally endangered Whooping Crane. The Sandhill Crane’s success as a species is a conservation win that should be celebrated, but even these relatively widespread birds are not immune to challenges.

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While Sandhill Cranes are considered stable from a national standpoint, certain state populations have had some major challenges. Ohio is one of the states that falls within the range of the Sandhill Crane. In the past, however, Sandhill Cranes were completely extinct in the state of Ohio.

It wasn’t until 1987 that a breeding population was reestablished in the state of Ohio. Since then, the recovery of the Sandhill Crane in Ohio has been slow going.

After years of slow recovery, Ohio began a survey of Sandhill Crane populations in 2021. This survey noted sightings of 58 breeding pairs of cranes with at least 28 confirmed young sighted. It was a major jump from the previous years of near-extinction, but the birds still struggled to establish the strong healthy population that Ohio had once had.

In 2022, this same survey took place with promising new results. Over 300 individual Sandhill Cranes were counted across 26 Ohio counties. The birds had more than doubled in number over the previous two years. This was the pay off that conservation groups had been waiting for.

Now, 2023 has shown that the pattern is holding. While the jump from 58 breeding pairs to over 300 birds was much larger, this year’s survey found 357 Sandhill Cranes. The survey was conducted across 30 counties with sightings taking place in 24 counties and the most sightings being concentrated in just 6 Ohio counties.

While the main takeaway from this survey should be triumph for a species that was once lost from this portion of its natural range, there is another lesson here too. These surveys were conducted by eager volunteers in an effort called the “2023 Midwest Crane Count.” This style of group survey, like the famous “Great Backyard Bird Count” conducted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, represents a growing movement within birdwatching wherein birders are looking for ways to participate in the science of conservation. So-called “citizen science” is a vital practice which places the responsibility and stewardship of natural habitats and wildlife in the hands of enthusiastic laypersons rather than small interest groups and experts.

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