Defining and identifying changes to seasonal ranges of migratory species is required for effective conservation. Historic sightings of migrating whooping cranes (Grus americana) have served as sole source of information to define a migration corridor in the Great Plains of North America (i.e., Canadian Prairies and United States Great Plains) for this endangered species. We updated this effort using past opportunistic sightings from 1942–2016 (n = 5,055) and more recent (2010–2016) location data from 58 telemetered birds (n = 4,423) to delineate migration corridors that included 50%, 75%, and 95% core areas. All migration corridors were well defined and relatively compact, with the 95% core corridor averaging 294 km wide, although it varied approximately ±40% in width from 170 km in central Texas to 407 km at the international border of the United States and Canada. Based on historic sightings and telemetry locations, we detected easterly movements in locations over time, primarily due to locations west of the median shifting east. This shift occurred from northern Oklahoma to central Saskatchewan at an average rate of 1.2 km/year (0.3–2.8 km/ year). Associated with this directional shift was a decrease in distance of locations from the median in the same region averaging -0.7 km/year (-0.3–-1.3 km/year), suggesting a modest narrowing of the migration corridor. Changes in the corridor over the past 8 decades suggest that agencies and organizations interested in recovery of this species may need to modify where conservation and recovery actions occur. Whooping cranes showed apparent plasticity in their migratory behavior, which likely has been necessary for persistence of a wetland-dependent species migrating through the drought-prone Great Plains. Behavioral flexibility will be useful for whooping cranes to continue recovery in a future of uncertain climate and land use changes throughout their annual range.
Pearse, A. T., Rabbe, M., Juliusson, L. M., Bidwell, M. T., Craig-Moore, L., Brandt, D. A., & Harrell, W. (2018). Delineating and identifying long-term changes in the whooping crane (Grus americana) migration corridor. PLoS ONE, 13(2). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0192737