Studying Crane Migration - International Crane Foundation

International Crane Foundation

Researchers place a back-pack PTT on a Black-necked Crane in Yunnan Province, China.

Studying Crane Migration

Do you ever wonder where the birds that live near your home spend the winter or summer? Some birds may spend the entire year in the same region, while others, such as the Whooping or Siberian Crane, migrate many hundreds of miles each spring and fall between their winter and summer homes. To protect migratory species, such as cranes, we need to preserve important wetland and grassland habitats where the cranes summer and winter.  Just as important, we need to understand the cranes’ migration routes to protect the places where they stop to rest and feed during their long journeys.

Researchers from the International Crane Foundation (ICF) are working with partners in the United States, China and Russia to study the migration of several crane species in North America and Eurasia. Click on the links below to learn more about these projects.

Black-necked Cranes
Researchers place a back-pack PTT on a Black-necked Crane in Yunnan Province, China.
In 2009-2010 ICF researchers captured and banded five Black-necked Cranes on the species’ wintering grounds in northwestern Yunnan Province. We tracked the banded cranes, which were fitted with satellite transmitters (PTTs), during their spring migrations to learn more about their migration routes and summering areas (click here for an update on the research and to view a map of the 2010 spring migration).

In 2005-2007, researchers completed an earlier study on the eastern Black-necked Crane population, banding eight sranes over the two-year period on the wintering grounds in northeastern Yunnan and northwestern Guizhou Provinces. Six of the cranes were tracked to their summering area in northern Sichuan Province (click on the link below to view a map of the 2005-2007 migration study results).

Black-necked Crane migration study 2005-2007 (404.66 KB)


Sandhill Cranes
ICF’s Western Crane Conservation Program is tracking the migration of banded Lesser Sandhill Cranes from Homer, Alaska. Ten cranes were captured and marked on the Kenai Peninsula, near Homer, in August 2008. These birds are members of the Pacific Flyway Population, which winters in the Central Valley of California. Click here to learn more about this project and view current migration maps, or click on the links below to download a two-page brochure and map of the cranes’ migrations.

  Annual Travels of Sandhill Cranes from Homer Alaska

  Migration Map (11 x 17 in) 

Location of band recoveries from Greater Sandhill Cranes captured in central Wisconsin. Map by Anne LacyIn central Wisconsin, ICF researchers have been studying Greater Sandhill Cranes since 1990. The researchers place brightly colored plastic bands on the birds’ legs, which are easily seen from a distance using binoculars. Each banded bird has a unique combination of colored bands and may also have a larger band with an engraved number and a radio transmitter. Sandhill Cranes banded in Wisconsin have been re-sighted in many states in the southern United States (see image to the right or click on the link below to view a larger version of the map).  We now know that not only are the breeding grounds of the Greater Sandhill Crane expanding in the Upper Midwest, the migration routes may be as well.  In addition, Sandhill Cranes banded in Wisconsin have been resighted in Louisiana, indicating that this population is overwintering with birds from the Central Flyway Population of Lesser and Canadian Sandhill Cranes.  Learn more about this research — or report a banded Sandhill sighting.

icon Location_Sandhill_Crane_band_recoveries.pdf (113.66 KB)

Siberian Cranes
In August 2008 ICF’s colleagues in Russia banded two Siberian Crane chicks on the species’ breeding grounds in northeastern Yakutia, Russia. We tracked the two chicks as they completed their first fall migration to their wintering area in southeastern China and monitored the cranes’ locations through the winter. We received location data from one of the banded cranes for an entire year and followed its northern migration to Yakutia in spring 2009.

Visit the UNEP/GEF Siberian Crane Wetland Project website to view interactive maps of the fall 2008 and spring 2009 migrations and click here to view related background information and education material for students on the migration studies.




Whooping Cranes
Young Whooping Cranes learn follow an ultralight aircraft to learn their migratory route between Wisconsin to Florida.
Since 2001, ICF has partnered with other organizations in the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership to return a migratory Whooping Crane population to the eastern United States. The chicks raised for this project are fitted with plastic color bands and radio transmitters, which enable researchers to locate and identify the banded cranes after they are released. A select number of cranes are also fitted with satellite transmitters. Visit the Journey North website to follow the annual migrations of the released Whooping Cranes.