Common Crane

On the afternoon of 18 November 2014, Justin Bosler, who was working for Texas Tech monitoring Sandhill Crane daily behavior patterns and landscape usage for his Master's research, discovered and photographed a Common Crane (Grus grus) amongst the large Sandhill Crane flock at Goose Lake on Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge, Bailey County.

A US rarity and a potential first state record for Texas, soon several folks followed up on it and had success re-finding the Common Crane amongst the Sandhills. Sightings were scattered about Bailey and neighboring Lamb County as birders looked through the Sandhill groups at their various feeding sites. Please see the map below which identifies various locations where the birds were seen based on eBird data. On 22 November 2014, Martin Reid was able to take a couple of photos which showed 2 Common Cranes in loose association. This was the only documented proof of multiple birds being present, though there were anecdotal reports of separate birds being seen at/near the same time at disparate locations on other days as well. On 30 November 2014, a Common Crane was discovered in nearby New Mexico. The crane in New Mexico continued until mid January 2015, while the reports of the Texas bird(s) continued at the same time.

Justin and others continued to see the Texas Common Crane(s) until 14 March 2015 when, presumably, they migrated north with the Sandhill Crane flocks.

Numerous photos were taken of the Common Crane(s) and the identification was not in question when it came before the TBRC as a potential first state record. The voting and decision revolved around the obvious question of provenance.

Common Cranes have been documented in several other US states and Canadian Provinces and have been accepted by the ABA (American Birding Association). Close to Texas, records have come from Nevada, Kansas, and a majority of sightings being from Nebraska. Common Cranes and Lesser Sandhill Cranes have overlapping breeding ranges in parts of Siberia and it is a widely held theory that the Common Cranes seen in the US migrate south with the Lesser Sandhills to their wintering areas in the US (and in Texas). Cranes are long-lived and it is certainly possible that sightings of individuals over the years may pertain to the same group(s) of birds.

With this in mind, the voting members of the TBRC independently & unanimously (9-0) voted to accept the Common Crane and add it to the official Texas state list. Since there was no indication of plumage or behavior to suggest that the Texas bird(s) were not wild, the idea that these birds are traveling and wintering with the Sandhill Cranes seems the most likely scenario. Nobody on the TBRC can claim that this is in fact the true origin of the birds and the members recognize that others may come to different conclusions.

Eric Carpenter

Secretary, Texas Bird Records Committee, March 2016.