By 1812Blockhouse

Volunteer observers reported 412 sandhill cranes during the fourth annual Midwest Crane Count on Saturday, April 13, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife. This year’s count, coordinated by the Division of Wildlife, the International Crane Foundation, and the Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative, marked a significant increase from last year’s count of 357 cranes, showcasing a 15% rise in sightings.

The 2024 survey involved volunteers from 32 counties, with cranes found in 26 of those counties. Among the five Ohio counties with the highest number of observed cranes, Richland County stood out with 27 reported sightings. Wayne County led the count with 106 cranes, followed by Lucas (56), Geauga (48), and Holmes (28).

Monitoring and Habitat

The survey, conducted during the crane’s nesting season, aimed to monitor Ohio’s growing sandhill crane population. Pre-selected counties were chosen based on the availability of wetland habitats, essential for crane nesting. Volunteers surveyed crane habitats within 10-square-mile blocks and reported their findings via eBird.

Killbuck Marsh and Funk Bottoms wildlife areas in Wayne County are prime breeding areas for these majestic birds. Richland County’s inclusion among the top counties for crane sightings underscores the importance of its wetlands in supporting the crane population.

Understanding Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill cranes are tall, wading birds with long necks and bills, mostly gray plumage, and a distinctive red patch on their foreheads. Their rolling bugle call is a recognizable feature. During the breeding season, these cranes can adopt a rusty hue due to their muddy habitats. They are migratory, breeding in wetlands across the northern U.S. and Canada, and wintering farther south in North America.

Once extirpated from Ohio, sandhill cranes made a comeback in 1987, breeding in Wayne County and gradually expanding. Despite their growth, they remain listed as a threatened species in Ohio. The inaugural Midwest Crane Count in 2021 found 160 sandhill cranes in five northeast Ohio counties, and the survey has grown each year since.

Supporting Wildlife Conservation

Wildlife enthusiasts can support sandhill cranes and other species by purchasing an Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp. Proceeds from the stamp go to wildlife conservation efforts, primarily benefiting species of greatest conservation need through the Wildlife Diversity Fund. This fund supports habitat restoration, wildlife and habitat research projects, and the creation of free wildlife educational materials.

New this year, $1 from each stamp sold will support the Southern Wings program, which protects the overwintering habitats of Neotropical migratory birds that pass through Ohio. The legacy stamp is available online through Ohio’s Wildlife Licensing System and at locations selling hunting and fishing licenses.

The Importance of Citizen Science

The increasing numbers observed in the Midwest Crane Count highlight the critical role of citizen science in wildlife conservation. Volunteers provide valuable data that help track the growth and distribution of species like the sandhill crane. Richland County’s notable performance in this year’s count emphasizes the importance of local efforts and community involvement in preserving Ohio’s natural heritage.

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