- Open Access
Annual spatio-temporal migration patterns of Hooded Cranes wintering in Izumi based on satellite tracking and their implications for conservation
© The Author(s) 2018
Received: 9 July 2017
Accepted: 18 June 2018
Published: 12 July 2018
The Hooded Crane (Grus monacha) is listed as a vulnerable species by IUCN. Knowledge about the migration of the Hooded Crane is still limited. Here we reported the spatio-temporal migration patterns of Hooded Cranes wintering in Izumi, Japan, as well as important stopover areas for their conservation.
Four adult and five subadult cranes, all wintering in Izumi, Japan, were fitted with satellite transmitters (GPS–GSM system) at their stopover sites in northeastern China in 2014 and 2015. We analyzed the time and duration of adults and subadults in spring and autumn migration, as well as the time and duration they stayed in breeding and wintering ground. In addition, we analyzed the land use of the cranes in stopover areas.
Adult cranes took much longer time to migrate both north in spring (mean = 44.3 days) and south in fall (mean = 54.0 days) compared with subadult cranes (15.3 and 5.2 days, respectively). However, the subadults had longer wintering (mean = 149.8 days) and nomadic (breeding season for adults) seasons (mean = 196.8 days) compared with adults (133.8 and 122.3 days, respectively). Three important stopover areas have been identified: the region around Muraviovka Park in Russia, the Songnen Plain in China, and the west coast of South Korea, where cranes spent most of their migration time (62.2 and 85.7% in spring and autumn, respectively). During migration, nomadic period and winter, Hooded Cranes usually stay in croplands for resting and feeding. In non-wintering season, less than 6% of stopover sites were located within protected areas.
Overall, our results contribute to understanding the annual spatio-temporal migration patterns of Hooded Cranes in the eastern flyway, and planning conservation measures for this species.
Tracking birds and identifying their important habitats over large spatial scales is technically difficult. In the early 1990s, it became possible to track the full annual migrations of individual birds (Jouventin and Weimerskirch 1990; Berthold et al. 1992; Meyburg et al. 1995; Kjellén and Alerstam 1997; Gschweng et al. 2012). Since then, an increasing number of studies including the year-round tracks of individual birds had been reported. This has resulted in important new knowledge about within- and among-individual variation in the temporal and spatial patterns of migration (Battley 2006; Hooijmeijer et al. 2014).
Satellite-tracking has become a useful means for tracking the migration of medium and large-sized birds such as cranes (Higuchi 1996; Higuchi et al. 2002; Qian et al. 2009), waterfowl (Lorentsen et al. 1998; Javed et al. 2000) and storks (Berthold et al. 1992). This technique facilitates the determination of the location and migration distance, duration and speed (Robert et al. 2009; Minton et al. 2010; Klaassen et al. 2011) over medium and large scales and assessment of habitat characteristics at those scales (e.g., Fancy et al. 1988). The main advantages of this technique are the large spatial scales over which they can be employed and the fact that data can be collected from remote locations (Higuchi et al. 2004).
The Hooded Crane (Grus monacha) is a vulnerable (VU) species according to the IUCN Red List (IUCN 2016). The estimated world population of this species is 11,600 individuals (IUCN 2016). Hooded Cranes breed in Russian Far East and northeast China (Li 1993; Liu et al. 2001; Guo et al. 2005), and winter in southern Japan, southern Korea, and the Yangtze River basin of China (Harris et al. 2000; IUCN 2016). The population that winters in China is estimated to consist of 1050–1150 individuals, and there are approximately 10,500 individuals wintering in Japan (IUCN 2016).
Past studies of Hooded Cranes have mainly focused on their behavioral ecology, such as food habits at stopover sites (Huang and Guo 2015; Zhao et al. 2002), activity budgets in winter and breeding season (Zhou et al. 2016a, b; Xu et al. 2006), and habitat selection (Zhang et al. 2011; Zhao et al. 2013; Cai et al. 2014). In addition, some research assessed the population size and trends, threat and conservation actions for the Hooded Crane (Meine and Archibald 1996; Li et al. 2012; Harris and Mirande 2013). Although research has been conducted on other cranes distributed in East Asia, e.g. White-naped Crane (Grus vipio; Higuchi 1996; Higuchi et al. 2004), Red-crowned Crane (G. japonensis; Higuchi et al. 2002), Black-necked Crane (G. nigricollis; Qian et al. 2009), Demoiselle Crane (G. virgo; Guo and He 2017) and Siberian Crane (G. leucogeranus; Li et al. 2016), there is little knowledge about Hooded Cranes’ migration ecology, like accurate migration time and duration, stopover sites. The purpose of this study was to fill the gap of knowledge of migration of the Hooded Crane: to describe the pathway and pattern of Hooded Crane migration, to identify the sites that are important for conservation and to assess the effect of protected areas for this species.
Information of tagged individual Hooded Cranes that wintered in Izumi, Japan
Status at capture
Number of locations
7 Apr. 2014–18 Apr. 2016
7 Apr. 2014–18 Apr. 2016
7 Apr. 2014–18 Apr. 2016
19 Oct. 2014–5 May 2016
3 Apr. 2015–22 Apr. 2016
15 Apr. 2015–28 Apr. 2016
15 Apr. 2015–18 Apr. 2016
20 Apr. 2015–11 May 2016
27 Apr. 2015–18 Apr. 2016
Data were received via the GSM system (CMCC, China), with information of date, time, longitude, latitude, speed, aspect, altitude, temperature and battery voltage. The total tracking dataset from 2014 to 2016 for the nine individuals contained 84,276 fixes. For every track, the best signal, based on “location class”, was categorized into five levels: A (± 5 m), B (± 10 m), C (± 20 m), D (± 100 m) and invalid. In this study, we only used locations categorized as A, B, and C. The starting point of the autumn track was the last fix from the respective breeding area or pre-migratory stopover area (see below), and thus the endpoint of the autumn track was the first point from the first wintering area (Izumi). The starting point of the spring track was the last fix from the last wintering area. The endpoint of the spring track was the first fix from the respective breeding area. Stopover sites (sites at which there was no movement) were identified when the crane’s speed was 0, and fly points were identified when the speed was greater than 10 km/h. In total, we obtained 69,420 location records from stopover sites and 2244 locations while birds were flying. The data are reported as mean ± SE.
Spring and autumn migration
It took approximately 44.3 ± 4.0 days (5 March–12 May) for adults to migrate from the wintering grounds in Izumi, to their breeding areas. During their northward migration, the average time spent at the three most important migration stopover areas was 27.5 ± 5.3 days. Subadult individuals spent 15.3 ± 2.8 days (22 March–19 April), followed by nomadism across large areas, including: the Greater Khingan Mountains, the Lesser Khingan Mountains, the Songnen Plain, Sanjiang Plain and Muraviovka Park.
For their fall migration from their breeding areas to Izumi, adult cranes spent nearly 54.0 ± 4.1 days (26 August–29 October) on autumn migration, including 47.0 ± 4.9 days at the three most important stopover sites (Muraviovka Park, Songnen Plain, and west coast of South Korea). Subadult individuals aggregated around Songnen Plain in September and then flew south at the end of October. They only spent 5.2 ± 0.9 days (23 October–29 October) on migration, including 2 days resting along the west coast of South Korea.
Breeding and wintering
Migration dates and breeding areas of Hooded Cranes (n = 9 cranes)
Status at capture
2015 spring migration
2015 autumn migration
2016 spring migration
24 Mar.–12 May
26 Aug.–29 Oct.
The basin of Ulkan River
5 Mar.–26 Apr.
1 Sep.–29 Oct.
23 Mar.–4 May
1 Sep.–29 Oct.
The wetland between Bokon Lake and Maja River
24 Oct.–29 Oct.
To 18 Apr.
29 Aug.–28 Oct.
The Akishm River
24 Oct.–29 Oct.
26 Mar.–13 Apr.
24 Oct.–28 Oct.
26 Mar.–29 Mar.
22 Oct.–1 Nov.
28 Mar.–19 Apr.
23 Oct.–31 Oct.
26 Mar.–11 Apr.
Spatial distribution of Hooded Crane stopover sites in protected areas (n = 9 cranes)
Number of sites
Number of individuals
Spring, autumn, nomadism
Spring, autumn, nomadism
Spring, autumn, nomadism
Temporal distribution of Hooded Crane stopover sites in protected areas
Number of locations
Number of locations in protected area
Based on satellite tracking data, we found that the behavior of nonbreeding individuals (subadults) and adults differed during the breeding season. They kept nomadic in the Greater Khingan Mountains, the Lesser Khingan Mountains, the Songnen Plain, the Sanjiang Plain and around Muraviovka Park after arriving at the Songnen Plain from Izumi. The subadults usually wandered in the region around Muraviovka Park and Songnen Plain, and sometimes entered the breeding grounds in China. This could answer the question raised by Zheng (1987) regarding whether the individuals observed in the Sanjiang Plain and eastern Inner Mongolia during summer were breeding. Non-breeding Hooded Cranes wintering in China also dispersed after their arrival at the Songnen Plain (Y. Guo, unpublished data). Thus, we argued that the Songnen Plain might be the gathering site for eastern and western migrating subpopulations, and it is also an important stopover area or breeding area for other six crane species which distributes in Northeast Asia (White-naped Crane, Red-crowned Crane, Siberian Crane, Common Crane Grus grus, Demoiselle Crane, Sandhill Crane G. canadensis; Zou et al. 2018). However, cranes in the Songnen Plain are threatened by the habitat degradation and loss, as well as the use of pesticides in farmland, illegal hunting, transmission lines and wind farms (Lu et al. 2007; Mao et al. 2016; Zhou et al. 2016a, b; Zou et al. 2018).
Izumi was the most important wintering area for Hooded Cranes with over 10,500 individuals spending the winter there, although it only occupies 8.16 km2 (IUCN 2016). Artificial feeding is applied there to ensure that cranes can obtain sufficient food for wintering. However, this area is too small to accommodate so many birds, which makes it susceptible to the outbreak and transmission of avian influenza (Harris and Mirande 2013). This may lead to the death of a large number of individuals, and threaten the status and survival of this species (e.g., 4 individuals were sick or dying in Dec. 2010, and 18 died in Nov. 2016; http://afludiary.blogspot.com/).
One method that can be adopted to avoid this problem is to disperse the population to other suitable locations with human aids, although it would be difficult for cranes to move away from established locations. Suitable places should meet the following criteria: (1) located on the migration route; (2) containing sufficient food and water resources; (3) providing open, shallow water areas for nighttime roosting; and (4) with little human disturbance. Human intervention could be employed to resolve if one or a few conditions are not completely met. Contact calls and crane models could be used to lure cranes to stay in suitable locations. The primary area for the dispersal of the wintering population in Izumi may be the west coast of South Korea, if adequate food with open and fresh water could be provided. In the future, the Yellow River Delta which is at a similar latitude could also be considered as another suitable wintering area for the cranes.
Our results contribute to the better understanding of Hooded Cranes’ migration, providing information on the need for the protection of important sites, especially the Songnen Plain, which is a critical area. However, one limitation of our study was that only nine individuals with 2-year data were available. Nevertheless, our data are the best available, and our results provide information on both breeding and non-breeding individuals over the complete eastern migration cycle. Another limitation was that we only studied and described the eastern migration of Hooded Cranes. Future studies should focus on Hooded Cranes wintering further west, in the middle and lower basins of the Yangtze River in China.
YG conceived the study and collected the data, and CM prepared and analyzed the data and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. APM and YG helped with the writing of the text. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
We are grateful to Mr. Jianguo Fu for his help in the fieldwork, and to Ms. Chuyu Cheng for her help with editing of this manuscript. Thanks also go to the State Forestry Administration and Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN).
The authors declare that they have no competing interests. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Consent for publication
The investigations comply with the current laws of China in which they were performed.
This study was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 31570532).
Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
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