Aerial infrared videography was used to map spatial distributions of nocturnal sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) flocks and determine crane densities within roosts as an alternative to the currently used diurnal photo-corrected ocular transect method to estimate the size of the mid-continental population. The densities determined from samples taken over the course of a night show variability. Densities measured early in the night (2100 to 2300 hrs) were generally lower than those measured in the time period after midnight and up until cranes prepared to depart their roosts before sunrise. This suggests that cranes may be more active early in the night and possibly still settling into their roosts at this time. For this reason, densities and areas measured later at night and into the early morning were used to estimate population size. Our methods estimated that the annual crane populations along the central Platte River in Nebraska were higher than estimates from the ocular transect method; however both methods showed a similar trend with time. Our population size estimates likely were higher because our methodology provided synoptic imagery of crane roosts along the entire study reach when all cranes had returned to the river, and the nocturnal densities were higher than previous estimates using observations from late evening or early morning. In addition to providing a tool for estimating annual population size, infrared videography can be utilized over time to identify spatial changes in the roosting patterns that may occur as a result of riverine management activities.
Additional publication details
Spring census of mid-continent sandhill cranes using aerial infrared videography