Habitat use, migratory behaviour, and vital rates of Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) on the North Shore of Lake Huron, Ontario

Final Project Report: Habitat use, migratory behaviour, and vital rates of Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) on the North Shore of Lake Huron, Ontario, 2012-2013

Goals and Objectives

This project seeks to provide crucial movement patterns, population size, and habitat use data that will aid in the management of this population and their habitats. Initially, we collected data specific to population size and management (2009), whereas in 2010 and beyond we are addressing several other aspects of Sandhill Crane life-history and habitat use as this project has evolved from an M.Sc. project to a more in depth and broader scoped Ph.D. project (attached Ph.D. proposal; 2011 and beyond). The Ph.D. project is designed to utilise the long-term parental care strategy of Sandhill Cranes as a novel system to test hypotheses related to nutrient reserves, foraging behaviour, agricultural food availability, and migratory strategy. Coupled with real-time data being collected by GPS transmitters deployed on cranes in 2010 on Manitoulin Island, we are attempting to provide a comprehensive understanding of how the availability of agricultural food resources effect synchronisation of body condition within family groups during fall migration. We propose that juvenile (hatch-year; HY) cranes limit the timing of migration within family groups because they are undergoing structural growth during fall migration while simultaneously depositing lipid reserves.

The goals of this project are:

1) Monitor multi-year population trends in Ontario, investigate age-specific migration chronology and compare between local and migrant segments,

2) Elucidate relationship between roost site characteristics and relative levels of crane use,

3) Study grain depletion during fall migration at agricultural crane foraging sites,

4) Investigate relationship between energy budgets and food abundance during fall migration, and

5) Study body condition of family groups and migratory chronology.


Activities

September 2009-October2013: Organise annual population surveys throughout North Shore and Manitoulin Regions, and to compare proportion of juvenile cranes throughout fall within and years.

August 2012-October 2012: Compare levels of use at roosts with roost-specific physical and biological features

August 2011-October 2013: Estimate food abundance during fall migration, compare energy budgets within and between family groups, and compare with changes in food abundance.

August 2012-October 2013: Compare body condition and nutrient reserves within and between family groups.


Specific Habitat Products/Results Supported by WHC’s Contributions

The project could result in up to twelve distinct wetlands being protected and/or enhanced as key roost sites as well as several breeding and staging areas that have been identified by personal observation and remote GPS data from marked birds. On Manitoulin Island in particular, these wetlands serve as the primary roosting sites for major congregations of cranes and waterfowl during migration. In general, wetland enhancement and/or protection would serve to benefit a multitude of species associated with these limited ecosystems, especially on Manitoulin Island where biologically productive wetlands suitable as waterfowl roost habitat are relatively limited.


Benefits to Waterfowl, Wetlands-Associated Species, and/or Other Wildlife

This project has specific potential to contribute to the procurement, protection and/or enhancement of locally uncommon wetlands that are key crane roost sties. These wetlands also provide critical staging and migratory habitat for various other migratory bird species.


Relevance to Habitat Planning, Decision Making and/or Management

This approach will likely prove particularly pertinent to wildlife managers because Sandhill Cranes are the least fecund species of game bird in North America. The results from this project will provide critical information that will aid and direct managers in the conservation and future procurement of critical staging habitat for Eastern Population (EP) Sandhill Cranes. This project has specific potential to contribute to the procurement, protection and/or enhancement of locally uncommon wetlands that are key crane roost sties. These wetlands also provide critical staging and migratory habitat for various other migratory bird species.


Project Location

This project is located on Manitoulin Island; specifically central Manitoulin and Gordon Township. The landscape is quite diverse, and ranges from transitional deciduous and coniferous forest to highly cultivated agricultural land.

Project Contact

For more information on this project, please contact Everett Hanna, Ph.D candidate, Long Point Waterfowl, Port Rowan, Ontario.