Mississippi Sandhill Crane

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Mississippi Sandhill Crane

Grus canadensis pulla

ListedJune 4, 1973
DescriptionA tall wading bird.
HabitatWetlands and agricultural fields.
FoodSmall animals and grain.
ReproductionLays eggs in a nest of reedy detritus in a wetland; both parents cooperate in incubation and rearing the young.
ThreatsHabitat loss, hunting, and risks of small population size.


The Mississippi sandhill crane is a local sub-species of the much more widespread and abundant sandhill crane (Grus canadensis ). It is a long-necked, long-legged wading bird, standing about 4 ft (1.2 m) tall. The body is completely gray, except for a bald red forehead. Males and females are similar in appearance.


The Mississippi sandhill crane is a non-migratory bird. It makes loud, clattering vocalizations, particularly during the breeding season and when gathered in social groups. Its feeding habits vary seasonally. In the summer, it feeds in swamps, savannahs, and open forests on insects, earthworms, crayfish, reptiles, frogs and other amphibians, and small birds and mammals. It also eats roots, tubers, nuts, seeds, fruits, and leaves. During the rest of the year these cranes mostly feed on corn and chufa (the latter is an introduced plant). Corn is mostly eaten in the fall, until it becomes scarce. Chufa is used year-round. Pecans may be eaten from September through December. Most nesting occurs in savannahs and swamp openings, and to a lesser degree in forested areas. Nesting habitat varies from dry areas to shallow water. The nest is constructed on the ground of vegetation gathered from the immediate vicinity. A pair of cranes mates for life. They select a breeding territory for courtship, mating, and nesting, and may defend it from other cranes. Territory size depends on the quality and type of habitat, the age and experience of the pair, and the density of other cranes. A nesting territory is generally used for more than one year, and for up to 10-17 years. Cranes tend to reuse nests for up to 3 years, or to construct a new one close to the former. The age at sexual maturity is 3 to 4 years. Usually, only one chick is raised each year. Hatching occurs in April or May, but may occur as late as August because of re-nesting. It appears that since 1982, hatching success has declined, resulting in a low breeding productivity of the Mississippi sandhill crane.


Mississippi sandhill cranes require separate nesting, foraging, and roosting habitats. Wet savannah is the preferred habitat and is used year round. It also utilizes wooded wetlands (swamps or ponds) dominated by various kinds of trees. Mississippi sandhill cranes also forage for grain and other foods in nearby agricultural areas.


The Mississippi sandhill crane survives mostly on the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge in Jackson County, Mississippi. Its range is largely restricted to an area extending from the Pascagoula River (east), to the Jackson County line (west), to about Simmons Bayou (south), to 4 mi (6 km) north of the town of Vancleave (north).


The Mississippi sandhill crane was more abundant and widespread in previous times. It has greatly declined because of habitat loss to develop agricultural land, forestry plantations, and residential areas. It has also been hunted as food, and is probably being affected by exposure to toxic pesticides, including organochlorine insecticides, mirex used to combat the invasive fire ant (Solenopsis invicta ), and other chemicals. Natural catastrophes, such as floods, hurricanes, and droughts, have also caused some deaths. The breeding success of Mississippi sandhill cranes is now quite low, in comparison to other subspecies and populations of sandhill cranes. About 135 wild Mississippi sand-hill cranes survived in the late 1990s.

Conservation and Recovery

Critical Habitat of the Mississippi sandhill crane has been designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). It covers about 26,000 acres (10,500 hectares), including all known breeding, summer feeding, and roosting sites in Jackson County, Mississippi. Most of the population of the Mississippi Sandhill Crane and its habitat is protected on the 19,273-acre (7,800-hectare) Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge. The Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge has been acquired southeast of the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, and a second population of cranes may eventually be introduced there by the FWS. A captive population of this rare crane has been established at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland. Developed with wild Mississippi sandhill crane eggs (rather than with captured adults), the captive population numbered 32 adults in 1989. In 1981, the FWS began to release captive-reared birds to the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge. By 1983, there were 13 free-flying, captive-raised cranes in the refuge. By 1989, a total of 96 captive-raised cranes had been released, and 53 of these survived. By 1990, eight captive-raised cranes had attempted to nest. The FWS intends to continue its population and habitat enhancement efforts until a stable, self-maintaining population of the Mississippi sandhill crane is achieved.


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
1875 Century Blvd., Suite 200
Atlanta, Georgia 30345 http://southeast.fws.gov/

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
6578 Dogwood View Parkway, Suite A
Jackson, Mississippi 39213
(601) 965-4900


Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Biology. 1999."Sandhill and Mississippi Sandhill Cranes." Virginia Tech. http://fwie.fw.vt.edu/WWW/esis/lists/e104001.htm

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1991. "Mississippi Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis pulla Recovery Plan." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlanta, Georgia. 42 pp.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2000. "Mississippi sandhill cranes, Grus canadensis pulla." http://endangered.fws.gov/i/b/sab4n.html

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Mississippi Sandhill Crane