Monday, February 13, 2012

North America's First Hooded Crane

When the Hooded Crane that was being seen in Tennessee left, everyone wondered where it might show up next. Luckily for me and hundreds of other birders from Indiana and around the midwest, the next stop for this crane turned out to be Goose Pond FWA. It was found on Wednesday and by the end of the day, many birders had seen the crane. I seriously considered heading to Goose Pond on Thursday but since I already had plans to go on Friday with my friends Eric and Clare Malbone, to help them add species for their big year, I decided to wait and hope that the crane would stick around.

We arrived at Goose Pond before sunrise in an attempt to see the crane before it left its roost in Beehunter Unit 5 North. As we set up our scopes, we could hear the trumpeting of Sandhill Cranes all around us. Scanning the marsh, we realized that this was a huge gathering of cranes with as many as 10,000 present. Everyone kept scanning the flock but could not find anything other than Sandhill.

Suddenly my phone rang and it was Lee Sterrenburg calling to let me know that the Hooded Crane had been seen just down the road. Everyone hopped in their cars and raced off to find the crane. As we got close, someone flagged us down to let us know that the Hooded Crane had just flown and we would have to start the search all over again.

On Thursday, the crane had spent several hours in one field  so it seemed like a good idea to check that location. All of the cars decided to head over to that field. As we came over a hill, it was evident that a large number of cranes were again feeding in this area. I scanned through the cranes from the backseat of the car and finally noticed something extremely out of place. It was the Hooded Crane!

A terrible but identifiable photo of the Hooded Crane
Everyone quickly got out of the car and got their spotting scopes out and on the bird. It was a little far away for photos but everyone took some anyway. The question you might have is what in the world is a Hooded Crane and why would it ever show up in Greene County, Indiana.

The Hooded Crane is an extremely beautiful crane that normally breeds in southeaster Russia and northern China. Over 80% of the population winters at the Izumi Feeding Station in Japan with the rest spreading out over Japan, South Korea, and China. It is a vulnerable species with less than 10,000 remaining in the wild. That answers the question of what a Hooded Crane is but it opens up the whole question of what is a crane that lives exclusively in Asia doing in Indiana?

There will be many arguments about this question over the next several months. There will be those that say that there is no way that this individual arrived in our area on its own and that it must have escaped from someone's personal collection. The more research I do, the less and less likely I believe this to be the case. There are just not that many Hooded Cranes in the United States in collections and every individual that is owned by a zoo is accounted for. If this crane is from a private collections, why was the bird not pinioned (surgically rendered incapable of flight)? How did it arrive in the country if its in a private collection? The only real way is through the black market but it seems to me that that would be extremely difficult to smuggle a crane into the United States.

This all leads me to the theory of arrival that seems to be the most accepted by birders currently. There are groups of Sandhill Cranes that breed in Siberia. It seems that a Hooded Crane could have gotten mixed up with a group of Sandhill Cranes and migrated with them back to North America. It does now seem to be heading back north with the Sandhill Cranes and I really hope that it continues to be seen throughout its migration.

Records committees including the Indiana Bird Records Committee that I chair will have to figure out which theory they feel more comfortable with but I for one am just excited to have seen such an awesome bird!

1 comment:

Bill Holt said...

Hey Rob,

Nice blog and great pix. I'm from Tennessee where the Hooded Crane spent several weeks. I saw it on the 4th day it was here and it provided lots of opportunities for folks during its stay. Glad it dropped in on you all. Keep up the good work.

Bill in TN