Justification of Red List Category
This long-lived crane qualifies as Critically Endangered owing to the likelihood that its global population will decline extremely rapidly over the next three generations following the development of the Three Gorges Dam, a large number of other dams on the Yangtze River and its tributaries, and now a proposed dam at the outlet to the Poyang lake in China which threatens the wintering grounds used by the vast majority of individuals. If the impacts of these developments prove to be less damaging than is feared, the species may warrant downlisting.
The population is estimated at 3,500-4,000 individuals, based on a count of 3,750 at Poyang Lake in 2008 (Yu Changhao et al. 2008) and counts of 3,400 at Momoge in May 2011 and at Poyang in early 2012. The western subpopulation numbers only a single individual aside from reintroduced birds.
This species' population is suspected to have decreased rapidly over the last three generations, in line with levels of wetland conversion (for development and agriculture), hunting (especially on passage) and disturbance. Construction of the Three Gorges Dam has changed the hydrological pattern of the lower Yangtze River, resulting in lower water levels in winter. Poyang Lake thus drains more rapidly into the Yangtze during the low water period. In addition, as of 2001, over 9,600 dams had been constructed on the five rivers feeding into Poyang Lake (more are still being constructed). As a result of water diversions and climate fluctuations, floods and droughts are increasingly frequent at Poyang. In response, it is probable that a dam will be constructed at the outlet to Poyang Lake to stabilize winter water levels. Operation of its sluice gates has not been determined, but early proposals called for significantly increased water levels through the winter season, which would make most or all current foraging areas for the cranes inaccessible, perhaps causing extremely rapid declines in the next three generations.
Leucogeranus leucogeranus breeds in Arctic Russia in Yakutia and West Siberia (BirdLife International 2001). Two regional populations are recognised; the western population has a small remnant population estimated at less than 20 individuals (Van Impe 2013). The Eastern Flyway population breeds between the rivers Kolyma and Yana and south to the Morma mountains in Yakutia. Non-breeding birds, typically those up to three years old, summer in Dauria on the border between Russia, Mongolia (Tseveenmyadag 2005) and China. Birds have also been recorded in summer in central Mongolia (Tseveenmyadag 2007, 2008). The main wintering sites were in the middle to lower reaches of the Yangtze river; now almost the entire population winters at or very near Poyang Lake, China. Surveys of the districts and counties around the lake show an increase in birds using the location from around a hundred birds in 1980/81 to an estimated 3,902 individuals in winter 2002/2003, since when the population has fluctuated between lows of around 2,000 individuals in 2008/2009 and 2012/2013, and highs of 3,800-4,000 individuals in the winters of 2005/2006, 2007/2008 and 2011/2012 (Li Fengshan et al. 2012, Wang et al. 2017), though no more than 3,500 have been counted since then (Wang et al. 2017).
The species relies on a network of important wetlands along its migration route, which follows the Yana, Indigirka and Kolyma Rivers through Yakutia before continuing along the Aldan River and tributaries and south into China. Jilin province hosts birds during both passage periods during March to May and September to November, with numbers at Momoge National Nature Reserve peaking at 3,590 individuals in May 2012 and 3,639 individuals in late October 2012 (Jiang Hongxing 2013). High spring counts at this site appear to be increasing: 1,156 in May 2007, 2,183 in April 2008, 3,128 in May 2010 and 3,400 in May 2011 (Zou Chang-Lin et al. 2008, Jiang Hongxing 2010, Jiang Hongxing pers. comm. 2011). In Liaoning province, Huanzidong Reservoir in Shenyang region, 900 Siberian Cranes have been recorded during autumn migration (Li Fengshan 2003, Zhou Haixiang 2006), and 1,100 in spring (Bai Qing-Quan 2008), and numbers at Wolong Lake peaked at 1,200 in March 2008 (Bai Qing-Quan 2008). After an exceptional (due to flow restrictions caused by dams) flood on the River Zeya, a tributary of the Amur, in 2013, small numbers have been observed at Muraviovka Park in far east Russia during autumn migration (Heim et al. 2017). The first record of the species in Taiwan (China) was made in December 2014, when one individual was observed (K-C. Hung in litt. 2014).
The Western/Central Flyway population is divided into Central Asian and Western Asian flocks. The Central Asian flock breeds on the basin of the Kunovat river, the north of West Siberia, Russia (Sorokin and Kotyukov 1982), and wintered at Keoladeo National Park, India; however, none have been seen at Keoladeo since winter 2001/2002 (Vardhan 2002), and this flock may now be extinct; unconfirmed, but credible reports of the species have continued from West Siberia, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and India, however (Shilina 2008). Passage birds are recorded in Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan (Bragin 2005, Belyalova and Fundukchiev 2007, Shilina 2008). The Western Asian flock breeds in the basin of Konda and Alymka rivers, the centre of West Siberia, Russia (Sorokin and Markin 1996, Kanai et al. 2002), and winters in Fereydoonkenar in Iran (recently c.10 birds [Kanai et al. 2002], but only one wild bird has arrived since winter 2006/2007 (Zadegan et al. 2009, P. Khalafbeigi in litt. 2010). This individual has been named 'Omid', meaning hope and has become the focus of education programmes including a BBC Persia documentary (Vuosalo 2013) and returned through to 2017. Birds use the Volga river delta as a migration stopover (Rusanov and Chernyavskaya 1996, Kanai et al. 2002, Shilina 2008) passing through Azerbaijan during migration (E. Sultanov et al. in litt. 2008, 2011). Only two sightings were reported from the Volga Delta in 2012 (Rusanov et al. 2013). From 1991 to 2010, 139 captive-bred birds were released at breeding grounds (Kunovat River Basin), migration stopovers (south of Tyumen Region and Volga Delta) and wintering grounds in Iran (Shilina et al. 2011). Six birds were released in the Volga delta in 2012 (Rusanov et al. 2013). The global population is about 3,750, of which over 99% belongs to the Eastern Flyway (Hirschfeld 2008).
Behaviour This species is migratory (del Hoyo et al. 1996). It arrives on its breeding grounds in late May (Johnsgard 1983), and eggs are generally laid in June (Johnsgard 1983). Breeding occurs in territorial pairs at a density estimated in the 1970s to be around one pair per 625 km2 (Johnsgard 1983). The main autumn migration usually begins towards the end of September (Johnsgard 1983), although birds (thought to be non-breeders [Cramp and Simmons 1980]) have been recorded on passage over the Volga delta as late as October-December (Cramp and Simmons 1980). This migration was recorded in the 1960s to occur in groups of 12-15 individuals (Johnsgard 1983). The species arrived on its wintering grounds in Pakistan in October, but seldomly earlier than November-December further east (Cramp and Simmons 1980, Johnsgard 1983). The spring migration commences in late-March or early-April (Cramp and Simmons 1980), with birds travelling in pairs or small groups of up to 10 (Johnsgard 1983).
Habitat The Siberian Crane is the most aquatic member of its family, breeding and wintering in wetlands, and shows a general preference for wide expanses of shallow (up to 30 cm) fresh water with good visibility. It discriminates strongly in favour of sites that are infrequently visited by man (Cramp and Simmons 1980). Breeding It breeds in the lowland taiga and taiga-tundra transition zone (del Hoyo et al. 1996) where it occurs in moss-covered marshland (Johnsgard 1983), tidal bogs, marshes and other wetland depressions with unrestricted visibility (del Hoyo et al. 1996). It may also breed on brushland interspersed with woods (Cramp and Simmons 1980). The preferred nesting habitat in Yakutia was found to consist of damp tidal flat with well-developed vegetative cover made up of typical polygonal swamp associations of sedges and cottongrass (Eriophorum) forming sparse, short stands (Johnsgard 1983). In late springs some birds have been known to nest on drier, more hilly areas of polygonal tundra, and non-breeders sometimes occur on high, hilly banks of rivers and lakes and in small depressions between large, elongated hills (Johnsgard 1983). Non-breeding Resting areas and stopovers on migration tend to consist of large, isolated wetlands (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Bogs and salt-licks used by ungulates, particularly Alces alces, offer greater foraging resources as trampling by the ungulates exposes rhizomes and roots on which the cranes forage (Degtyarev and Sleptsov 2013). It winters in the shallows and mudflats of seasonal lakes of the Yangtze Basin (del Hoyo et al. 1996), as well as steppes near water, open jheels and swamps (Johnsgard 1983). Those that winter in India and Iran use artificial water impoundments and flooded rice fields (del Hoyo et al. 1996).
Diet This species is omnivorous (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Breeding During the summer its diet is broad, consisting primarily of roots, rhizomes, seeds, sprouts of sedges and other plant materials, but also insects, fish, rodents and other small animals (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Non-breeding During the non-breeding season it feeds mainly on roots, bulbs, tubers (especially of sedges), rhizomes, sprouts and stems of aquatic plants, and sometimes aquatic animals if these are readily available (del Hoyo et al. 1996).
Breeding site It builds a large mound of grass and sedge 50-80 cm in diameter emerging above water 25-60 cm deep (del Hoyo et al. 1996). It typically lays two eggs but generally does not fledge more than one chick.
The key threat to this species is wetland loss and degradation at wintering sites and staging areas through diversion of water for human use, agricultural development, the development of oilfields and increased human utilisation. The most significant threat to the eastern flyway is a proposed dam at the outlet of Poyang Lake to stabilize water flows for navigation, irrigation, and other economic purposes–to be built in part in response to impacts of the Three Gorges Dam on water levels in the Yangtze River. Management of water levels to sustain ecosystem function will be critical to the long-term viability of this species (Harris and Zhuang 2010). Severe drought caused Poyang Lake to shrink dramatically in the winters of 2003-2004, 2006-2007 (Anon 2007), and 2010-2011. The most recent drought forced birds to feed in sub-optimal upland habitat. Construction of the Three Gorges Dam changed the hydrological pattern of the lower Yangtze river and may have a major impact on the wintering population, as may the quantity of sand-dredging that is also occurring along the Yangtze (Larson 2018). In Western Siberia the establishment of oilfields and associated urban developments are significant causes of habitat loss and degradation (Van Impe 2013).
Increasing levels of human disturbance are also a problem, particularly at Poyang Lake, where crab farming may restrict access to high-quality foraging habitat (Burnham et al. 2017). Along eastern migration routes, water has been diverted from the Zhalong and Momoge National Nature Reserve for human use. Although water releases to sustain wetland functions have been negotiated, sustaining these releases over the long term will be important, especially for Momoge. Also canals and fragmentation within the reserve have altered water flow. Limited fresh water has caused marshes in the Huanghe Delta National Reserve to dry up, and the harvesting of reeds by people has seriously disturbed cranes (Shan Kai et al. 2007). A hydro-electric scheme is also proposed for the headwaters of the Aldan River basin, the construction of power lines northwards to Yakutsk, and oil and gas prospecting (Prentice and Stishov 2007). Overhunting of Alces alces reduces availability of rhizomes and roots usually exposed by trampling (Degtyarev and Sleptsov 2013). Disturbance from boating activities is also a problem at stopover sites. Hunting on passage and wintering grounds in Iran is the key threat to the Central/Western population (G. Sundar in litt. 2004), and inhibits recovery. Poisoning targeted at waterbirds in China, e.g. Huanzidong Reservoir, Shenyang Region, may also affect this species. Pesticide use and pollution is a threat in India. Climate change may be a long term threat to breeding sites, with changes in the permafrost layer causing expansion of lakes and the loss of islands, peninsulas and low-lying shorelines (Harris 2008, Van Impe 2013). The expansion of lakes and subsequent habitat modification has been on-going in the breeding grounds of the eastern population since the 1950s (Pshennikov and Germogenov 2008).
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. CMS Appendix I and II. It is legally protected in all range states. Eleven range states signed a Memorandum of Understanding under the Convention for Migratory Species (CMS MoU) and develop Conservation Plans every three years. To help protect key wetland sites, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Crane Foundation conducted the UNEP/GEF Siberian Crane Wetland Project from 2003-2009, conceived in 1998, to protect and manage a network of sites across Asia critical to Siberian Cranes and 26 other threatened species (del Hoyo et al. 1996, G. Sundar in litt. 2004, Mirande 2007, 2010, Prentice 2010). Achievements include improved protection for over 2.4 million hectares through designation of four new reserves, expansion of three others and upgraded legal protection status at another three, the designation of five new Ramsar sites, new management plans and improved capacity for many sites, and an extensive environmental education programme (Prentice 2010). Since 2002, Crane Day Celebrations in seven Siberian Crane Range States, including Siberian Crane Festivals in West Siberia and Kazakhstan, promote conservation of this endangered species and its habitats (Moore and Ilyashenko 2010). Hunting societies throughout the former Soviet Union countries (Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan) have been engaged and now distribute information about crane conservation when issuing hunting licenses (Ilyashenko and Mirande 2013). Volunteer committees among hunters have been created in Afganistan and Pakistan to share information on crane conservation and extensive poster campaigns and a documentary film have been distributed (Ilyashenko and Mirande 2013). A set of four national stamps were published in Iran in 2008 to help raise public awareness of the Siberian Crane and the importance of wetland conservation within the country (Faseli 2007), and a documentary on the species focusing on the last returning individual in Iran was broadcast in 2011 (Vuosalo 2013).
Some birds have been marked and fitted with satellite transmitters (Germogenov et al. 2007). Researchers monitoring breeding sites in the remote Yakutia region incorporated remote sensing given the difficulties monitoring on the ground (Stishov and Bysykatova 2008). Key protected areas where monitoring occurs include Kytalyk, Chaygurgino, and Middle Aldan (Russia), Momoge, Poyang and Dongting (China), and Naurzum (Kazakhstan). The North East Asian Crane Site Network has been established under the East Asia-Australasian Flyway Partnership. Twelve important Siberian Crane sites along both Western and Central Flyways are designated in the Western/Central Asian Site Network for the Siberian Crane and other waterbirds established under CMS MoU and UNEP/GEF SCWP, and another 24 sites are proposed for inclusion. Four flourishing colonies of captive Siberian Cranes successfully raise the species for education and conservation purposes. The fifth issue of the International Studbook was published in 2009 (Kashentseva and Belterman 2009). Captive-raised birds have been released in an effort to maintain the Central Asian (G. Sundar in litt. 2004) and Western Asian flocks (Zadegan et al. 2009). From 1991 to 2010, 139 captive-bred birds were released at breeding grounds (Kunovat River Basin), migration stopovers (south of Tyumen Region and Volga Delta) and wintering grounds in Iran (Shilina et al. 2011). Russian scientists started the “Flight of Hope” project which replicates the methodologies that have successfully helped to boost Whooping Crane populations in North America (G. Sundar in litt. 2004, Shilina et al. 2011).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Strengthen conservation of major wetlands in China that serve as critical migration and wintering habitat for the East Asian population through research, management, and policy activities. This includes: 1) water management at Poyang needs to sustain wetland productivity and ensure that extensive mudflats and shallow water areas are available throughout the winter, 2) strengthen integrated water management at migratory stopover sites in north-east China, guided by on-going monitoring of the condition of these wetlands, to support wetland ecosystems that can support cranes, 3) maintain or improve water quality at key stopover and migration sites to avoid detrimental ecosystem change or direct impacts on crane survival, 4) continue long-term research on the effects of changes in water levels on water plants and water birds at Poyang and at sites in north-east China, and 5) protect and manage additional stopover sites, especially from Liaoning to Jiangxi Provinces, based on further investigation of migratory habitats.
Determine movements and behavior of birds during their first summer to identify and manage key sites for sub-adult birds. Investigate potential impacts of climate change on Yakutian breeding grounds. Identify, legally protect and manage key staging areas in Yakutia, accompanied by mitigation of development impacts along the flyway. Provide technical assistance on wildlife health monitoring and management practices at staging and wintering areas. Incorporate management of Western/Central Asian Site Network for Siberian Cranes and other Migratory Waterbirds under the broader Central Asia Flyway Initiative for migratory birds and continue support for captive breeding programmes. Foster relationships with hunters to improve awareness and promote sustainable hunting of waterbirds, and to engage hunters to protect and report sightings of Siberian Cranes, especially in Western and Central Asia. Cooperate with gas and oil companies in Russia and China to minimize disturbance and habitat degradation.
140 cm. Large white crane. Adults all white, except for dark red mask extending from bill to behind eye, black primaries, yellow iris and reddish legs. Male slightly larger than female. Juvenile has feathered mask and buff or cinnamon plumage. Voice Flute-like and musical.
Text account compilers
Taylor, J., Allinson, T, Martin, R., Ashpole, J, Capper, D., Bird, J., Benstead, P., Chan, S., Calvert, R., Peet, N., Pilgrim, J., Symes, A.
Harris, J., Li, Z., Hung, K., Sultanov, E., Vladimirtseva, M., Khalafbeigi, P., Mirande, C., Zadegan, S., Ilyashenko, E., Sundar, G.
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Leucogeranus leucogeranus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 23/04/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 23/04/2021.