We examined population size and factors influencing nest survival of greater sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis tabida) at Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Idaho, USA, during 1997-2000. Average local population of cranes from late April to early May, 1998-2000, was 735 cranes, 34% higher than that reported for May 1970-1971. We estimated 228 (SE = 30) nests in the basin core (excluding renests), 14% higher than a 1971 estimate. Apparent nest success in our study (x?? = 60%, n = 519 nests) was lower than reported for Grays Lake 30-50 years earlier. Daily survival rates (DSRs) of all nests averaged 0.9707 (41.2%). The best model explaining nest survival included year and water depth and their interaction. Nest survival was highest (DSR = 0.9827) in 1998 compared with other years (0.9698-0.9707). Nest survival changed little relative to water depth in 1998, when flooding was extensive and alternative prey (microtines) irrupted, but declined markedly with lower water levels in 2000, the driest year studied. Hypotheses relating nest survival to vegetation height, land use (idle, summer grazing, fall grazing), and date were not supported. In a before-after-control-impact design using 12 experimental fields, nest survival differed among years but not among management treatments (idle, fall graze, fall burn, and summer-graze-idle rotation), nor was there an interaction between year and treatments. However, DSRs in fall-burn fields declined from 0.9781 in 1997-1998 to 0.9503 in 1999-2000 (posttreatment). Changes in the predator community have likely contributed to declines in nest success since the 1950s and 1970s. Our results did not support earlier concerns about effects of habitat management practices on crane productivity. Nest survival could best be enhanced by managing spring water levels. Managers should continue censuses during late April to evaluate long-term relationships to habitat conditions and management.
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Sandhill crane abundance and nesting ecology at Grays Lake, Idaho