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We are seeking the assistance of volunteers in monitoring the expansion of Pennsylvania's sandhill crane population. The Eastern Population of sandhill cranes has undergone rapid expansion in recent decades, and this expansion has not gone unnoticed in PA. Sporadic sightings began in the late 1980s in the northwest corner of the state. The earliest breeding record occurred in 1993 when a Lawrence county pair disappeared from view in March and re-appeared in August accompanied by a juvenile. The crane expansion into Pennsylvania is an exciting story that is still unfolding: the first photograph of a nest was not even accomplished until 2009. Since that time, cranes have been spotted in more than thirty counties!
Since 1979, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has conducted an annual Fall Crane Survey as birds of the Eastern Population gather into fall staging areas. This survey provides a population estimate as well as an indication of trends over time. This information is used when making management decisions. The current estimate of the Eastern crane population now stands at more than 60,000 birds.
Though the number of cranes in PA is small by comparison, the USFWS has decided that our expanding population warrants PA inclusion in the Fall Crane Survey. Your assistance in this effort will provide an important "snapshot" of the distribution of cranes statewide and will serve as a starting point for tracking population trends over time. We are eager to learn more about the distribution of PA's cranes, habitats used during the staging period, and the current ratio of juveniles to adults.
Pennsylvania's information will be provided to USFWS to assist their monitoring of the Eastern Population. This information will also provide a baseline that will help us better understand the rapidly-evolving nature of crane distribution in PA.
If you know of a gathering of cranes at a fall staging area, we'd appreciate hearing from you. Don't assume someone else will report a local sighting. If you go out to a crane spot but see no birds, we need to hear that also. Every observation is important!