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Whooping crane stay length in relation to stopover site characteristics

January 1, 2022

Whooping crane (Grus americana) migratory stopovers can vary in length from hours to more than a month. Stopover sites provide food resources and safety essential for the completion of migration. Factors such as weather, climate, demographics of migrating groups, and physiological condition of migrants influence migratory movements of cranes (Gruidae) to varying degrees. However, little research has examined the relationship between habitat characteristics and stopover stay length in cranes. Site quality may relate to stay length with longer stays that allow individuals to improve body condition, or with shorter stays because of increased foraging efficiency. We examined this question using habitat data collected at 605 use locations from 449 stopover sites throughout the United States Great Plains visited by 58 whooping cranes from the Aransas–Wood Buffalo Population tracked with platform transmitting terminals. Research staff compiled land cover (e.g., hectares of corn; landscape level) and habitat metric (e.g., maximum water depth; site level) data for day use and evening roost locations via site visits and geospatial mapping. We used Random Forest regression analyses to estimate importance of covariates for predicting stopover stay length. Site-level variables explained 9% of variation in stay length, whereas landscape-level variables explained 43%. Stay length increased with latitude and the proportion of land cover as open-water slough with emergent vegetation as well as alfalfa, whereas stay length decreased as open-water lacustrine wetland land cover increased. At the site-level, stopover duration increased with wetted width at riverine sites but decreased with wetted width at palustrine and lacustrine wetland sites. Stopover duration increased with mean distance to visual obstruction as well as where management had reduced the height of vegetation through natural (e.g., grazing) or mechanical (e.g., harvesting) means and decreased with maximum water depth. Our results suggest that stopover length increases with the availability of preferred land cover types for foraging. High quality stopover sites with abundant forage resources may help whooping cranes maintain fat reserves important to their annual life cycle.

Publication Year 2022
Title Whooping crane stay length in relation to stopover site characteristics
Authors Andrew J. Caven, Aaron T. Pearse, David A. Brandt, Mary J. Harner, Greg D. Wright, David M. Baasch, Emma M. Brinley Buckley, Kristine L. Metzger, Matthew R Rabbe, Anne E Lacy
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Proceedings of the North American Crane Workshop
Index ID 70237985
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center