Webless Migratory Game Bird Species Accounts and Status
- Mourning Dove
- Band-tailed Pigeon
- White-winged Dove
- White-tipped Dove
- Rails - General
- Clapper Rail
- King Rail
- Virginia Rail
Introduction and General Information
The diversity of the species under the purview of the Central Flyway Webless Migratory Game Bird (hereinafter the Webless) Technical Committee is large. A sampling of their distribution and habitat needs show some of that diversity: sandhill cranes winter in Texas, New Mexico and Mexico and breed from Manitoba to Alaska but white-tipped doves are largely limited to southern Texas and south into Central America; American crows are present across essentially all of the Central Flyway but band-tailed pigeons are restricted to the four-corners region of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah and; mourning doves are an upland and urban dwelling species while rails are dependent on wetlands.
Management activities are as diverse as the animals. Intensive and federally coordinated surveys are annually conducted for mourning doves and sandhill cranes while surveys of rails are spotty at best and locally coordinated. Depredation (or special) hunting seasons are available for American crows to keep problems they cause in check while special permits are required to hunt sandhill cranes and harvest is carefully monitored. Agricultural fields are managed to attract morning doves and for improved hunting of them while other fields are being restored to native conditions to improve the status of white-winged doves.
Knowledge about the lives of these bird species, and therefore management efficiencies, has benefited from a long history of research. Between 1967 and 1982, 122 research projects in 41 states were funded by the Accelerated Research Program (ARP) through Congressional action. The benefits of this program were enumerated by Clait Braun in 1985. At least 340 publications were produced from this work, providing long-term benefits to managers. One of these, a book entitled Management of Migratory Shore and Upland Game Bird Species in North America (see References), published in 1977, brought together the information from a large array of studies. This book was the forerunner to Migratory Shore and Upland Game Bird Management in North America (see References), a primary reference for the information on these pages.
Between 1983 and 1994, no funding was available for research specific to this group of birds. In 1995, a program similar to ARP and called the Webless Migratory Game Bird Research Program (WMGBRP) was initiated by the U.S. Geological Survey - Biological Resources Division. Funding for projects occurs in a competitive atmosphere thus assuring that only the most highly valued projects receive a portion of the (as of 2001) $150,000 annual amount. A document entitled History and Administration of the Webless Migratory Game Bird Research Program, 1995-2000. also includes a brief history of the ARP.
Should the accounts of all species be reviewed, it will become obvious that particular emphasis is placed on mourning doves and sandhill cranes by the Flyway and others. The white-winged and white-tipped dove are important in Texas and the band-tailed pigeon in Colorado and New Mexico and these species receive much attention from migratory bird managers. The western range of the woodcock includes a small portion of the Central Flyway but this species benefits from extensive work in the eastern U.S. and Canada. The rails are secretive and not regularly observed by many waterfowl or dove hunter and the study of them occurs on a more local level.
Brief species accounts and pictures of most of these and other migratory bird species are available at Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter.
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Mourning Doves (Columbidae Zenaida macroura)
The mourning dove is one of the most widely distributed and abundant birds in North America whose breeding range extends from southern Canada into Mexico. They are primarily ground-feeding seed eaters. Clutches of two eggs are laid in flimsy nests and 2-3 (in the north) to 5-6 clutches (in the south) are laid by individual females during the breeding season. Current (in 2001) population size is estimated to be greater than 400 million in the fall.
Surveys to provide an index to the population size of mourning doves were first conducted on a large scale in the southeastern U.S. in the late-1940's. Standardized, 20 mile-long routes were established and biologists counted doves heard and seen at one-mile intervals - thus the survey name of the Call Count Survey (CCS). This concept was expanded to the lower 48 states in 1953 but routes were chosen based on the presence of high numbers of doves. By 1966, new, randomized routes were chosen that provided a better index to the population size and between 1,000 and 1,100 routes have been run annually in the U.S. since then. Twenty routes are run in Canada.
The data from these routes are analyzed at several levels including states and groups of states but perhaps the most useful level is the Management Unit. There are three large Units - the Eastern, Central and Western - that were first described in the mid-1950's as containing discrete populations of mourning doves. The description of these units has been verified using more recent band data. The Central Management Unit (CMU) includes the 10 states of the Central Flyway plus four states to the east (Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas). For some purposes the CMU is broken down into three sub-units.
The CMU has the highest population index of the three large Management Units with the highest counts traditionally being in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. Changes in indices are typically described as long-term trends since annual estimates can be highly variable. According to the Status Report for 2001, a significant decline in doves heard during the official survey was indicated for the CMU as a whole for the 10-year and 36-year time periods.
Mourning doves are also counted during the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) and the results for mourning doves are presented in the Status Report. For the CMU, the BBS did not show a significant trend for the 10-year period (1991-2000) but did agree w/ the CCS in showing a significant long-term (35 year) decline.
Dove hunting is very important in the U.S. A 1996 survey (USFWS - see References) indicated that 1.6 million people hunted doves on 8.1 million days. A compilation of state surveys in the CMU indicated that 747,000 hunters took 11 million doves in 1989, down slightly from an average of over 13 million in the mid-1980's. To address concerns about these estimates from non-uniform state surveys, the USFWS initiated the Harvest Information Program (HIP) in 1992. By 1998, migratory bird hunters in all states needed to provide their name and address before hunting, providing a uniform sample frame from which harvest could be better estimated. Harvest estimates from HIP (which are not directly comparable to earlier, state-generated estimates) for the 2000-2001 season in the CMU was 13.1 million birds, about 51% of the national total. About 11.6 million of these birds were taken in Central Flyway states by over 460,000 hunters who spent more than 1.8 million days afield. Over 75% of this harvest occurred in Texas. Hunters in the states of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico averaged more than 27 birds/person over the season while hunters in the remaining, northern states averaged about 14/person. In 2001, states in the CMU could select a season length of 70 days with a daily bag limit of 12 or a 60 day season with a bag limit of 15.
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White-winged doves (Columbidae Zenaida asiatica)
This is a large semi-tropical bird, weighing about 1/3 more than the mourning dove. It has white bars on the upper wing, unlike any other dove species, and is more likely to fly in large flocks than mourning doves. There are 12 subspecies of white-wings with four occurring in the U.S.: the Eastern and Western subspecies are the most widely distributed and numerous by far. In Central Flyway states, the Western subspecies nest in southwest New Mexico and the Eastern in central and southern Texas - both winter in Mexico and Central America, being present in the U.S. only between about ARPil and September. Because they form large flocks (thousands of birds), they can cause some problems for farmers who raise sorghum and sunflower. Breeding and fall surveys in Texas show the population is stable or increasing there. Harvest in Texas has shifted from 90% in the Lower Rio Grande Valley to 13% there due to an expansion of the range of white-winged doves and the area open to hunting. Hunting season is concurrent with the mourning dove season except that Texas is allowed a four day white-wing season in a special southern zone in early September. In New Mexico and Texas, white-wings are included in an overall (aggregate) dove daily bag limit with mourning and white-tipped doves.
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White-tipped doves (Columbidae Leptotila verreauxi)
The name of this species comes from a white-tipped tail even though this isn't a particularly distinctive characteristic. The bird is heavier than the white-winged and mourning dove. It is the only species of the Leptotila genus that occurs in the U.S.. The only place these birds breed in the U.S. is in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and southern most counties in Texas, though their range extends into Argentina. The birds are considered to be "resident" where they occur and do not migrate. As with mourning doves, a call-count survey is annually conducted to monitor population status. They are hunted in Texas and are included in the total (aggregate) daily bag limit for doves - at present (in 2001), the maximum number of white-tipped in the daily bag is two.
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Band-tailed Pigeon (Columbidae Columba fasciata)
The band-tailed pigeon in the Central Flyway is of the Interior race, breeds in the Rocky Mountains south of Wyoming and is occurs in what is referred to as the Four Corners Population. This latter designation is due to the approximate center of its breeding range being where the boundaries of the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet. There is a Coastal race west of the Rocky Mountains. While the other members of the Columbidae family inhabit brushy, open and sometimes urban habitats, the band-tailed pigeon inhabits coniferous forest. The management plan for this population (Pacific and Central Flyways Management Plan for the Four Corners Population of Band-tailed Pigeons) was adopted by the Central Flyway Council (Recommendation 6) in March 2001. In 2001, hunting of these birds is allowed in New Mexico and Colorado in the Central Flyway and in Arizona and Utah in the Pacific Flyway. The daily bag is five and the season length can be 20 days in New Mexico and 30 in the other states.
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Sandhill Cranes (Gruidae Grus canadensis)
[Editors Note: The following is the text of The Population Status And Harvests of Mid-Continent And Rocky Mountain Populations Of Sandhill Cranes - 2001 (see References). While some values in this report relate to only one year (2001), a good history of management and trends is included. A few sub-headers were added to allow easier locating of material.]
- Mid-continent Population
- Introduction (Range and Surveys)
- Rocky Mountain Population
- Discussion & Research for Management
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The Mid-Continent Population of Sandhill Cranes has generally stabilized at comparatively high levels, since increases that were recorded in the 1970-80s. The Central Platte River Valley, Nebraska spring index for 2001, uncorrected for visibility, was 396,000. The photo-corrected 3-year average for 1998-2000 was 435,283, which is within the established population-objective range of 343,000-465,000 cranes. All Central Flyway states, except Nebraska, allowed crane hunting in portions of their respective states in 2000-01. About 7,500 hunters participated in these seasons, which was 13% higher than the number that participated in the previous year’s seasons. About 16,850 cranes were harvested in the Central Flyway during 2000-01 seasons, which was similar to estimated harvests for the previous year. Retrieved harvests in the Pacific Flyway, Canada, and Mexico were estimated to be about 13,500 for the 2000-01 period. The total North American sport harvest, including crippling losses, was estimated to be about 34,600, which was about 2% lower than the previous year’s estimates. The long-term trend analysis for the Mid-Continent Population during 1982-2000 indicates that harvests have been increasing at a higher rate than the trend in population growth over the same period.
The fall 2000 pre-migration survey estimate for the Rocky Mountain Population was 19,990, which was similar to the previous year’s estimate of 19,501. Limited special seasons were held during 2000 in portions of Arizona, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, resulting in a record high harvest of 810 cranes.
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Introduction - Population Ranges, Surveys and Management Plans
The Mid-Continent Population (MCP) of sandhill cranes, the largest of all North American crane populations, is comprised of about two-thirds lesser (Grus canadensis canadensis), one-fourth Canadian (G. c. rowani), and the remainder greater (G. c. tabida) sandhill cranes. Collectively this population is believed to number over one-half million (Tacha et al. 1994). The breeding range extends from northwestern Minnesota northward into southern Ontario, then northwest through Arctic Canada, Alaska, and into eastern Siberia. The MCP wintering range includes western Oklahoma, New Mexico, southeastern Arizona, Texas, and Mexico south to near Mexico City. Although the number of MCP sandhill cranes is unknown, extensive aerial spring surveys, corrected for observer visibility bias on major concentration areas, provide annual indices that depict population trends. These surveys are conducted in late March, when birds that wintered in Mexico and Texas usually have migrated northward to spring staging areas, but before spring "break-up" conditions allow cranes to move into Canada (Benning and Johnson 1987). The MCP Cooperative Flyway Management Plan establishes regulatory thresholds for changing harvest regulations that are based on an objective of maintaining a stable population at 1982-92 levels (i.e., spring index of 404,000 ± 15%). Hunters are required to obtain either a Federal crane hunting permit or register under the Harvest Information Program (HIP) to hunt MCP cranes in the U.S. The permits or HIP registration records provide the sampling frame to conduct annual harvest surveys. In Canada, the harvest survey is based on the sales of Federal Migratory Bird Hunting Permits, which are required for all crane hunters.
The Rocky Mountain Population (RMP) is comprised exclusively of greater sandhill cranes that breed in isolated, well-watered river valleys, marshes, and meadows of U.S. portions of the Central and Pacific Flyways (Drewien and Bizeau 1974). The largest recorded nesting concentrations are located in western Montana and Wyoming, eastern Idaho, northern Utah, and northwestern Colorado. The RMP migrates through and winters primarily in the Central Flyway’s Rio Grande Valley, New Mexico (with smaller numbers that winter in the southwestern part of that state), in southeastern Arizona, and at several (about 14) locations in the Northern Highlands of Mexico. During 1984-96, the RMP was monitored at a spring stopover site in the San Luis Valley, Colorado. However, cranes from the MCP began to also use this area. In 1996, a fall pre-migration (September) survey replaced the spring count as the primary tool for monitoring population change. The RMP Cooperative Flyway Management plan established population objectives, a survey to monitor indices to recruitment, and harvest levels that are designed to maintain a stable fall population of 17,000 - 21,000 (Pacific and Central Flyway Councils 1997). All sandhill crane hunters in the range of the RMP must obtain a state permit to hunt cranes, which provides the sampling frame for independent state harvest estimates and allows for assignment of harvest quotas by state. In many areas, harvest estimates are supplemented by mandatory check station reporting. The cooperative management plan contains a formula for calculating allowable annual harvests.
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Mid-Continent Population of Sandhill Cranes
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Areas Open to Hunting
No sport hunting seasons for MCP Cranes were allowed in the U.S. between 1916-60. In the Central Flyway, areas open to hunting were gradually expanded during 1961-74, but have subsequently remained relatively stable, with operational hunting seasons now conducted annually in portions of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. During the 1961-74 expansions of sandhill crane hunting, hunters gradually improved knowledge of sandhill cranes and improved their hunting success. During 1975-85, a tradition of sandhill crane hunting became established. Together with improvements in the equipment (decoys, calls, clothing, blinds, etc.) and a shift from pass-shooting and hunting on roosts to decoy-hunting in fields, crane hunter success increased (Sharp and Vogel 1992). Since the mid-1980s, indicators of hunter success, such as average seasonal bags, have stabilized.
In North Dakota, sandhill crane seasons resumed in 1968 and were incrementally expanded thereafter. During 1968-79, the number of counties open for crane hunting increased from 2 to 8. From 1980-92, the number of counties with open seasons increased to 30, and were grouped into two zones. Beginning in 1993, the zones were eliminated and Federal frameworks were fully utilized for the designated hunting area (Sharp and Cornely 1997). In 1993, Kansas became the ninth Central Flyway state to initiate a crane hunting season within established Federal frameworks. As with most other states, initial seasons in Kansas have been more restrictive than Federal frameworks allowed. Nebraska is the only Central Flyway state that currently does not have a crane sport hunting season.
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The MCP included at least 510,000 sandhill cranes in March 1982, the last extensive survey involving high-altitude vertical photography of major spring migration staging concentrations. Beginning in 1982, an intensive photo-corrected ocular-transect survey of Nebraska's Central Platte River Valley (because >95% of MCP sandhill cranes are generally found in this area during late March) and ocular assessments from other spring staging areas have been used to monitor the annual status and trends for this population. The March 2001 index for the Central Platte River Valley, which has not yet been corrected for visibility bias was about 396,000. This value was 18% lower than the previous year's record-high index of 484,800. The annual photo-corrected estimates and 95% confidence intervals for the Central Platte River portion of the survey indicate a relatively stable (P=0.23) population trend for the MCP since 1982. In addition, the 3-year running average of these indices is within the management thresholds (343,000 - 465,000 cranes). The average index for 1998-2000 is 435,283 cranes, which is 3% below the previous 3-year average (Solberg 2000).
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Hunting and Harvest
Since 1975, special Federal Sandhill Crane Hunting Permits or HIP certification has been required for all crane hunters participating in seasons in the Central Flyway. A sample of these permittees are mailed questionnaires soon after the completion of each hunting season. The resulting responses enable estimation of hunting activities and success in each geographic area or state (Martin 2000).
During the 2000-01 seasons in the Central Flyway, 61,311 hunters were either HIP-certified or obtained crane hunting permits, that were not limited in number, with 7,497 hunting at least one time. The number of active hunters increased (13%) from the previous year. The number of hunters in Texas (49%) and North Dakota (33%) combined comprised 82% of sandhill crane hunters in the Central Flyway. Federal frameworks allowed a daily bag/possession limits of 3/6 and were used in most hunting areas. Specific dates within Federal frameworks selected by states in the Central Flyway for 2000-01 were similar to previous hunting seasons.
Crippling-loss rates (number of cranes lost/[number of cranes lost + retrieved]) in the U.S. portion of the Central Flyway continued a long-term decline ( R2 = 0.906,
P<.01) from over 16% in 1975 to below 9% in 2000. The number of days afield per hunter continued to fluctuate around an average of 3.0 days. In contrast, the seasonal bag per hunter since the mid-1980s has begun to stabilize at about 2.5 cranes after increasing from about 1.5 in the mid-1970s (P<.01). The preliminary estimate of retrieved and unretrieved mortality associated with the sport harvest (18,416) was similar to the previous year's estimate (18,866). The increasing trend ( R2 = 0.716, P<.01) in the Central Flyway’s harvest of MCP Cranes during 1975-2000 likely has been related to the gradual increase in hunter opportunity combined with improved knowledge of crane behavior and hunting techniques (Sharp and Vogel 1992).
Cranes from the MCP also are harvested in the Pacific Flyway portions of Alaska, Arizona, and New Mexico, and in Canada and Mexico. Estimates of the 1999-2000 sport harvests in Canada increased (13%) to 9,450, and remained nearly twice the size of the long-term (1971-2000) average. Much of this increase is a result of higher harvests in Saskatchewan due to fall conditions that have allowed cranes to remain on staging areas until November in recent years. The estimated harvest for the Pacific Flyway states of Arizona, Alaska, and New Mexico was 1,261 birds. In most years, the MCP harvest estimates for Alaska probably also contains a small unknown proportion (<10%) of cranes from the Pacific Coast Population of lesser sandhill cranes. There also is some intermingling of MCP cranes with RMP cranes in portions of New Mexico and Arizona, however bag checks allow individual harvest estimates for each population. There are no annual harvest surveys in Mexico; but, in any year MCP harvests probably are <10% of the retrieved harvest in the U.S. and Canada (R. Drewien, pers. comm.). This low level of harvest was confirmed in an independent assessment of harvest in Mexico (Kramer et al. 1995). The 2000-01 total of retrieved and unretrieved kill of MCP cranes by sport hunters was 34,576, a 2% decrease from last year.
To assess the relative rates of change between population size (abundance) and harvest, we used linear regression on the natural log-transformed values for these variables for the years 1982-2000. Because >10% of the MCP crane population occurs outside the Central Platte River Valley (CPRV) in the spring of some years, we combined the photo-corrected counts in the CPRV with the ocular cruise estimates from areas outside the CPRV for analyses of population abundance. For harvest, we used only the estimates of retrieved harvest for the Central Flyway, the Pacific Flyway, and Canada, because crippling-loss rates for the latter two areas are unknown and no empirical estimates of harvest from Mexico are available. For both variables, linear regressions adequately described the data (population: R2 = 0.23,
P = 0.04; harvest: R2 = 0.73, P < 0.01). Results suggest that the rate of increase in harvest (3.4% per year) is about twice that for abundance (1.6% per year).
Subsistence harvest levels of MCP Sandhill Cranes generally are poorly known. However, the ratification of the U.S./Canada Migratory Bird Treaty Amendment will result in future improvements in sandhill crane harvest-monitoring programs in both the U.S. and Canada. Intensive studies conducted on the Yukon-Kuskokwim (Y-K) Delta, Alaska in 1999 reported the MCP harvest of 3,907 adults and fledged young and 920 eggs. These estimates are similar to long-term averages (1989-98) of 3,362 adults and fledged young and 547 eggs taken by subsistence hunters on the Y-K Delta. Efforts are being made to gather additional information on subsistence harvests for the remainder of Alaska, Siberia, and Canada.
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Rocky Mountain Population (RMP) of Greater Sandhill Cranes
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Hunting and Harvest
The RMP of greater sandhill cranes was not hunted in the U.S. from 1916 until 1981, when Arizona initiated the first modern-day season. Since 1982, hunting programs have been guided by a cooperative management plan, including a harvest strategy, that has been periodically updated and endorsed by the Central and Pacific Flyways. Special limited hunting seasons during 2000-01 resulted in an estimated harvest of 37 cranes in southeastern Arizona, 163 in western Wyoming, 69 in Utah, 193 in Idaho, 257 in the Middle Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico, and 91 in Montana. The total sport harvest in these six states was 810, which was 23% higher than the previous year and a record-high harvest for the population. In addition, 20 cranes also were collected for a food habits and body condition research study in the San Luis Valley, Colorado (SLV). Based on current RMP population and recruitment indices, management guidelines allow for a maximum take of 1,175 during 2001-02 hunting seasons, including the research study (20) in the SLV.
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Surveys and Population Size
Counts conducted in the SLV during the spring migration indicated that the number of RMP cranes was relatively stable during 1984-96. However, survey biologists found that these estimates contained increasing numbers of the MCP (Canadian and lesser subspecies). An adjustment, using ground derived proportions, was made to correct for the lesser subspecies (Benning et al. 1996). Unfortunately, a similar correction could not be made for the mid-sized Canadian subspecies, and in 1996 the survey was discontinued. In 1997, an attempt was made to survey these cranes during the fall (October) in the SLV, but MCP Sandhill Cranes were also present at that time. Biologists concluded that neither a spring nor a fall count in the SLV could be used reliably to survey the RMP. As an alternative, a cooperative 5-State September pre-migration staging-area survey, experimentally tested in 1987 and 1992, has been ongoing since 1995. The 2000 survey provided complete coverage and resulted in an index of 19,990 (Drewien et al. 2000), which was within the established population objectives. Several years of experience will be required with this September survey to determine variability in estimates and to refine survey methodologies. The September pre-migration survey approach for the RMP appears to be a good alternative to either a spring or fall survey in the SLV, as no other known crane population co-mingles with them on summer areas in September.
During 1986-94, important breeding areas in the Intermountain West experienced extremely dry conditions and indices for recruitment rates (% juveniles) were low (generally between 4-6%). A return to more favorable breeding conditions in 1995-99 resulted in higher recruitment rates (8-12%). However, biologists indicate that the production outlook for the 2001 breeding season will be below average as dry conditions were again reported over much of the primary breeding area.
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Discussion and Research Implications For Management of Sandhill Cranes
Satellite transmitters placed on sandhill cranes during spring at the Platte River, Nebraska allowed the tracking of MCP cranes as they traversed U.S. states, provinces and territories in Canada, and northeastern Asia, and Mexico during 1998-2001. The proposed study ultimately will track 150 cranes during their annual cycle and will clearly have far-reaching management implications, including: (1) resolving critical issues related to harvest regulation, (2) determining spatial and temporal subspecies distribution patterns, (3) assessing annual bias of population estimates, (4) identify breeding, migration, and wintering habitat affinities and thus target habitat conservation programs, and (5) refining techniques for monitoring a wide range of species of migratory birds that spend parts of their annual cycle in remote regions of North America or Asia. (G.L Krapu, personal communication).
A research study to estimate survival rates from RMP neck-collared cranes has been recently completed. This information will allow continued development of an annual cycle model of population dynamics for this population. A simulation model of the population dynamics for this population would allow improvements in the harvest strategy for this population of cranes.
In 1996, the use of a spring population survey for the RMP was discontinued in favor of a September pre-migration survey to monitor this population. As experience with this survey approach is attained, consideration should be given to using a 3-year average of the most recent accurate surveys to monitor this population instead of an annual estimate.
During 1975-79, MCP harvest surveys indicated that a 14% reduction in harvest would be realized with a bag limit change from 3 to 2, and a 43% reduction in harvest with a bag limit change from 2 to 1 (Miller 1987). Since that time, the effect of bag limit on harvest levels has not been updated. Daily bag information from the harvest survey should again be analyzed and incorporated into any revision of the harvest-management strategy that will be incorporated into the 2004 planned MCP management plan update.
During the spring of 2001, experimental aerial infra-red video photography of sandhill cranes roosts along the Platte River, Nebraska showed promise in improving survey approaches for MCP sandhill cranes staging during spring. Additional development of the techniques for collecting the video photography and computer software for counting cranes will be necessary, but early results are encouraging.
The American Ornithologist’s Union currently recognizes three distinct subspecies of sandhill cranes in the MCP. Preliminary genetics research into the designation of these subspecies indicates substantial interbreeding between the greater (G.c. tabida) and the mid-sized subspecies (G.c. rowanii). The existence of the mid-sized crane subspecies has been questioned for many years and final results from the current genetics research and subsequent morphological investigations may allow biologists to make determinations as to the current classification of MCP into subspecies delineations and implications for management.
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Most of the species in this family are secretive in their behavior, preferring to spend most of their time in heavy, wetland vegetation and singly rather than in flocks. The sexes have mostly similar plumage (monomorphic) but males are larger than females for some species. Most nest over water in floating nests constructed of marsh vegetation - some build ramps to their nests so they don't have to fly to them. All of these species are dependent on wetlands for their entire life cycle and therefore, due to widespread wetland destruction and degradation, their populations are under assault. Wetland conservation activities being conducted under the Joint Ventures of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan are aiding in enhancing the status of these species.
Due to the habits of these species, they are difficult to survey. Some success has been achieved by playing recorded calls of individual birds during the breeding season and counting the responses from the marsh. Other techniques are being evaluated.
All references to hunting regulations are from the U.S. federal frameworks for the 2001-2002 season. These frameworks are annually reviewed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and do change. In addition, states may select hunting seasons that are more restrictive than federal frameworks provide. The information here is intended to provide a general reference and current state regulations need to be consulted prior to going hunting.
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Clapper Rail (R. Rallus longirostris)
The clapper rail is crow-sized and occurs mainly in tidal wetlands and salt marshes. There are eight subspecies recognized in the U.S. with the Louisiana subspecies the only one in the Central Flyway and it is restricted to the Texas/Louisiana coast. Other subspecies nest as far north as New York and Massachusetts. All but this most northerly breeding subspecies is thought to be non-migratory. Their primary diet consist of crabs, clams and insects. The only hunt season in the Central Flyway is held in Texas, where the season can be 70 days long and the daily bag limit is 15 in aggregate (combined) with king rails.
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King Rail (R. Rallus elegans)
The king rail is the largest "true" rail but still smaller than the American coot. It breeds across much of eastern one-half of U.S. including extreme eastern parts of Central Flyway states and as far north as North Dakota. Their diet consists of a mix of plants and animals (crustaceans, frogs, insects). Like many other rail species, it nests over water in marshes that have grass, sedges and rushes. As of 1992, several states (none in Central Flyway) have given this species special status and some have listed it as endangered. The only hunt season in the Central Flyway is in Texas where the season can be 70 days long and the daily bag limit is 15 in aggregate (combined) with clapper rails.
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Virginia Rail (R. Rallus limicola)
The Virginia rail is one of the smaller rails at about 25 cm long. Its diet is primarily animal matter and it resides in emergent, shallow wetlands. The presence of mud flats and flooded grass is an important habitat characteristic. Its breeding range extends across a broad area of North America and includes the parklands of central Canada south through mid-latitude states and Oklahoma and Colorado. It winters along the Texas coast in the Central Flyway and elsewhere along the Gulf coast. The Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) indicates a decline in the total North American population for the ten year period 1982-1993. A hunting season 70 days long is allowed in the Central Flyway with a daily bag limit of 25 in aggregate (combined) with sora.
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Sora (R. Porzana carolina)
The sora is smaller than even the Virginia rail at a length of about 23 cm. Its diet consists of a mix of animals and plants and it nests over water in a typical rail fashion. It is often associated with Virginia rails and requires shallow, emergent wetlands. It is the most abundant and widely distributed of North American rails, nesting from central Canada through Colorado and Kansas in the Central Flyway and elsewhere from coast to coast. It winters in the southern U.S. and into Mexico and Central America. The hunting season in the Central Flyway can be 70 days long with a daily bag limit of 25 in aggregate (combined) with Virginia rail.
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Common Moorhen (R. Gallinula chloropus)
The common moorhen is smaller than American coot and a member of the rail family. It tends to hide rather than fly when disturbed and its flight, when it occurs, is short and "laborious." Plant material and seeds make up most of its diet. Its range is concentrated in eastern and south western U.S. and south through Central America but it is not evenly distributed across the range. Most harvest occurs in Florida, Louisiana and Texas. In the Central Flyway, a hunting season of 70 days is allowed with a daily bag limit of 15 in aggregate (combined) with purple gallinules.
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Purple Gallinule (R. Porphyrula martinica)
The purple gallinule is among the larger and most brightly colored members of the rail family. It is most often confused with and frequently occurs with the common moorhen. Its breeding range includes the south eastern U.S. and along the Texas coast in the Central Flyway. It winters in Central and South America. Each summer, like many waterfowl, it undergoes a complete molt and spends 3-4 weeks flightless. Its diet is a mix of plants and animals and it builds floating nests of vegetation. While range maps show a somewhat restricted range in the U.S., individuals have been observed in most of the lower 48 states. In the Central Flyway, hunting season length can be 70 days and a daily bag limit of 15 in aggregate (combined) with common moorhens is allowed.
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Common Snipe (Scolopacidae Gallinago gallinago)
There are two subspecies of this small-bodied shorebird. One occurs in the Aleutian islands and the other across most of North America with the exception of the Arctic. Their night-time migration in late March takes them to an extensive breeding range north of and in mid-latitude states such as Nebraska and Ohio. Their winter range extends from the southern boundary of their breeding range into Central America. Their primary diet consists of worms and other animals matter. Shallow wetlands are important to the species year around. Harvest has apparently declined from a 64-76 period to early 90's: presently, the hunting season in the Central Flyway can be 107 days long with a daily bag limit of eight.
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Woodcock (Scolopacidae Scolopax minor)
An annual Status Report about the American woodcock is produced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This report describes the intensive surveys conducted in the east central and northeast potions of the U.S. and in southern portions of the provinces of eastern Canada to provide an index to population size. However, no Central Flyway state is included in the official survey area due to the low number of birds present. According to the Status Report and other references, the breeding range of woodcock does not include any Central Flyway state. While this demarcation makes good biological sense for management purposes, there is no question that woodcock breed on the eastern edge of several Central Flyway states. A hunting season of 45 days with a daily bag limit of three is provided in the Central Flyway states of North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
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American Crow (Corvidae Corvus brachyrhynchos
The American crow, along with the mourning dove, is likely one of the most easily recognized birds by the general public and included in the purview of the Webless Technical Committee. It is observed both "in town" and the countryside across the U.S. and well north into Canada. Its summer and winter range overlap in many places. Similar species include the smaller fish crow of the Atlantic and Gulf coast and the common raven, a larger bird more common to undeveloped areas and occurs in much lower densities than crows. The American crow is truly an omnivore (eats animal and plant matter), with a diet that ranges from fruit to insects and grains to wild bird young and eggs. Other words often used to describe crows are "adaptable" and "opportunistic." In many places, it has learned that dumpsters near restaurants can provide lunch. Somewhat unique to birds, "helper" crows may assist a breeding pair in the parental duties of raising young. Large concentrations of crows in the winter cause nuisance problems for human communities and farmers in some places. Although 62 species of wild birds have been shown to be infected with the West Nile Virus (WNV), crows comprised the largest share of dead birds in the initial outbreak near New York City. Several states in the Central Flyway are working with the National Wildlife Health Laboratory to monitor for the presence of WNV. States in the Central Flyway may select a hunting season as long as 124 days in a calendar year with no daily bag limit for crows. Furthermore, additional days outside of the peak nesting season may be selected where crows are concentrated in large numbers and are creating a public health or nuisance hazard.