One of California’s favorite bird species today was named the 2012 Audubon California Bird of the Year. The Sandhill Crane received the designation after winning 43 percent of votes cast during an online poll this fall. Although the bird was a nominee for the past three years, it experienced a surge in popularity this year, going from 234 votes in 2009 to 5053 in 2012.
The Sandhill Crane is one of North America’s largest waterbirds and certainly one of the most magnificent. It provides great viewing for even the most novice birder.
“Cranes are a great bird to get into,” said Brigid McCormack, managing director of Audubon California. “They are easy to spot in the flooded fields of the Central Valley because of their large size and unique courtship dance.”
Sandhill Cranes were once common throughout the west and especially in the California Central Valley. However their populations declined drastically as a result of unregulated hunting and habitat loss during settlement of the region. In California, the breeding population was reduced to fewer than five pairs by the 1940s. Fortunately, all populations of Sandhill Cranes have increased, and in 2000 an estimated 465 pairs were breeding in California. Nonetheless, much of their historic range remains vacant and the population remains far below historic numbers.
Audubon California is increasing the amount of Sandhill Crane habitat in California by partnering with private landowners. As part of the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership, Audubon (along with PRBO Conservation Science and The Nature Conservancy) has an opportunity to take specific action targeting conservation in the Central Valley. In 2008, the Partnership negotiated easements in Surprise Valley and the Modoc Plateau to increase the amount of farmland in the Central Valley that is managed specifically for Sandhill Cranes.
Nearly 12,000 votes were cast in this year’s Bird of the Year poll. The Sandhill Crane took the title with a late surge after the second-place Burrowing Owl raced off to an early start. Ultimately, the owl finished with 22.3 percent. Coming in third for the second year in a row was the Western Snowy Plover with 9.8 percent, while the Tricolored Blackbird followed with 8.1 percent.
While the Sandhill Crane wins the designation of 2012 Bird of the Year, McCormack emphasized thatAudubonCalifornia’s work on behalf of other California birds, nominated or not, will continue.
“Every species nominated was a focus of our conservation work,” said McCormack. “Our hope is that the attention this award brings to the Sandhill Crane will help raise awareness of the conservation needs of all birds throughout the state.”
(Photo by Stephen A. Wolfe)