Updated June 2018
Would you like to participate in a WILD TREASURE HUNT this summer?
We are looking for Sandhill crane feathers, lots of them, from cranes breeding on the central and north coast of B.C. and Haida Gwaii and the central interior between the Coast and Rocky Mountains (see maps below). The purpose of this two-year study is to determine whether there are genetic differences between cranes breeding on the coast and those breeding east of the Coast Mountains and west of the Rockies.
You can get involved by sending us coordinates of crane breeding areas that you know of, and by visiting those places and collecting feathers that are in good condition.
Last year, scores of volunteers from all over the province sent us information about crane breeding areas and many gathered moulted feathers and mailed them in. To complete the sampling, we will need feathers from parts of the central and north coast, and the Cariboo Chilcotin region that we don’t already have feathers from. You can see where feathers were collected on our updated map with the ‘feather sites’ button turned on. Sites where feathers were collected will appear as red dots. If you know of a breeding crane area and you don’t see a dot there, we would love to hear about it.
We will once again be setting out this summer to search the bogs, marshes, and fields for feathers, but we can’t cover the whole breeding range. We have funds to help cover costs for volunteers to gather samples, so please let us know if you would like to get involved!
Once again, we would like to say a huge Thank You to all of those who sent or called in crane breeding locations, and those who searched for feathers and cranes last summer. We are very grateful for all of your efforts; because of you this study is becoming a successful citizen science project! Visit the Field Season Pictures tab for images from last year’s field season.
CLICK ON THE AMAZING INTERACTIVE MAP BELOW TO SEE WHERE TO LOOK FOR CRANES AND THEIR FEATHERS IN B.C., AND EVEN DOWNLOAD COORDINATES! You can even see points for where feathers were collected!
Feather Collection Zones
Who is running this project?
This study is led by Dr. Ruth Joy and Krista Roessingh, two craniacs who love to spend their free time deep in the mud (either the natural or statistical kind), searching to uncover the secrets of one of the tallest, most beautiful, and noisiest birds in the province. Dr. Carol Ritland and Allyson Miscampbell are carrying out the less dirty but far more painstaking work of sequencing DNA from our feather samples at the University of British Columbia’s Genetic Data Centre. And a growing host of volunteers is sharing their knowledge of breeding areas – many of them will be visiting these areas personally to look for feathers and other remains, and YOU CAN TOO! This project is also supported by a National Geographic research grant and the Public Conservation Assistance Fund.
Why is it important?
In essence, to see if there are genetic differences between the coastal cranes and their east-of-the-mountains relatives. These two groups may have been separated thousands of years ago during the last ice age. Their differences may be the result of ecological adaptation to living on the bogs and beaches on the coast vs. living in marshes and forest in the interior. Cranes breeding in the Northeast belong to yet another population. We really don’t know a lot about Sandhill cranes in most of B.C. – but habitat used by these same cranes in the U.S. in fall and winter is under threat and they may benefit from protection and population-level management in B.C. You can read more about the study below.
How you can help: how to send us your observations and feathers
1. Send us the coordinates by email, along with any information on Sandhill crane breeding sites you know about in any of these regions: Central and north coast of B.C., Haida Gwaii, Chilcotin, Cariboo, Okanagan, and southeast B.C. west of the Rockies. If you are on the coast, you are also welcome to submit your observations yourself to the Coastal Crane Atlas.
2. If you can, visit these sites from May to September and pick up any crane feathers with an intact shaft, or other remains that you are quite certain belonged to a summering crane, being careful not to disturb any live cranes in the area. Dry the feathers carefully, put them in their own ziploc bag with the date, the location,
and your name slipped in and then mail it to:
UBC Genetic Data Centre
Faculty of Forestry, UBC
Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z4
3. Spread the word! Tell you friends! Use your networks!
How we can help you
- We are regularly updating the interactive map of confirmed and probable breeding sites with observations and feather collection locations sent in by volunteers.
- We can send you coordinates of known or probable sites in your area for you to search for feathers and help you with any questions you have, just ask us!
- Thanks to a small grant from the National Geographic Society, we can also refund your gas and postage costs!
What to collect
Cranes moult their feathers slowly over the summer. We simply need to find feathers that are in good shape, large or small, that we KNOW belonged to cranes summering in these regions (NOT the cranes that pass through in spring and fall on their migration), dry them carefully, and send them to the lab. And don’t worry, we have a permit from Environment Canada for collection and possession of crane feathers.
- If you have direct evidence that cranes are using a breeding area in the study zones, that is a good place to look for feathers. Moulted feathers can often be found caught up in tall sedges (in the high intertidal zone on the coast or in marshes), or on the ground and on islets in mossy bog areas.
- The feather shaft must be intact and without chafing – this is the part used for genetic testing. If the shaft is cracked or chafed, bacteria may have entered and altered the genes.
- Carcasses provide even better genetic material than feathers, and we would be happy to have parts of them, but please don’t shoot any cranes for us.
You can also reach Krista Roessingh by phone for more information at 250 957 2920.
- How long are SACR usually on territory before they make a nest and lay eggs? This would be extremely variable, but is there an average?
Pairs observed on the central coast take up at least parts of their territory as early as 2nd week of April, with nest initiation believed to be in the first week of May.
2. When do cranes moult?
The literature is not very clear on this for our migratory cranes. I have read that they moult between when chicks hatch and when they fledge, which is when they spend most of their time walking around with the chicks anyway, June and July. But I have also read that they moult gradually from July to October. See page 6 here for more crane moulting food for thought.
3. In this scenario, what is the best type of feather that we have a chance at – juvenile moulting or adult moulting?
You are more likely to find adult moulting feathers. During my last feather collecting stint, I searched within 100m of nests (after the cranes have left the nest site – usually within 2 weeks of hatching, although they may return to the same area to roost at night) and often found them right at the nest site, or laying on the ground or caught up in vegetation in the vicinity.
4. How many days/weeks after hatching is the chick able to walk around independently and find food with parents?
The ones we watched with a remote camera began to venture within a day or two, and within a few days disappeared from within view of the nest site. They reappeared after about 10 days to spend the night. If there are 2 chicks they hatch asynchronously within about 12 hours of each other. Often the second won’t live long. There are two film clips here: http://greatbearlive.pacificwild.org/tags/sandhill_crane
Three subspecies of Sandhill Crane occur in British Columbia (B.C.):
Lesser (Antigone canadensis canadensis), Greater (A.c. tabida), and
Canadian (A.c. rowani), the latter being of uncertain taxonomic status
(Cooper 1996). Historically, subspecies were delineated by morphology
and breeding range. Although several genetics studies undertaken to
resolve the question of population substructure in Sandhill Cranes
have found that A.c. rowani is not distinct from A.c. tabida and/or
A.c. canadensis, none have included samples taken from
coastal-breeding birds of the Pacific Flyway Population, which may be
subject to ecological as well as geographic forces of differentiation.
With a diet that has marine-derived components and is abruptly
different to diets across the rest of this crane’s range, with a body
size and bill morphology different from cranes found nesting north and
south of the coastal range, and with a different suite of predators,
these cranes are unique. We propose to collect non-invasive samples
(moulted feathers) from cranes breeding in coastal habitats as well as
in interior plateau habitats of B.C. Mitochondrial and nuclear gene
samples will be sequenced and compared across these regions, and
compared with samples from other populations in North America. The
results of this work will help to elucidate the population genetic
structure of cranes nesting west of the Rocky Mountains, and will help
to prioritize conservation needs for this species.
 Davidson, P.J.A., R.J. Cannings, A.R. Couturier, D. Lepage, and C.M. Di Corrado (eds.). 2015. The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012. Bird Studies Canada, Delta, B.C. < http://www.birdatlas.bc.ca/ e > [2017 Apr 15].