Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Population Numbers and Trends
Historic and Present Distribution
Distribution by Country
Habitat and Ecology
Current Conservation Measures
Priority Conservation Measures
The total population of White-naped Cranes is estimated at 4,900-5,300. The
species breeds in northeastern Mongolia, northeastern China, and adjacent areas
of southeastern Russia. Birds in the western portion of the breeding range (about
3,000 individuals) migrate south through China, resting at areas on the Yellow
River delta, and wintering at wetlands in the middle Yangtze River valley. Approximately
2,000 birds in the eastern portion of the breeding range migrate south through
the Korean peninsula. Several hundred remain on wintering grounds in the Demilitarized
Zone between North and South Korea; the remainder continue on to the Japanese
island of Kyushu. In the past, the White-naped Crane was more numerous and more
extensively distributed than at present. The population reached its historic low
in the years following World War II and the Korean War. Since then, it has increased
in many portions of its range, although it may again be declining in portions
of Russia and China. The species is classified as Vulnerable under the revised
IUCN Red List Categories.
The species’ typical breeding habitat includes shallow wetlands and wet meadows in broad river valleys, along lake edges, and in lowland steppes or mixed forest-steppe areas. White-naped Cranes nest and feed in shallow wetlands and along wetland edges, foraging in adjacent grasslands or farmlands. During migration and on their wintering grounds, they use rice paddies, mudflats, other wetlands, and agricultural fields, where they feed on waste grains, seeds, and tubers.
The loss of wetlands to agricultural expansion, especially in the breeding grounds of the Amur River basin and other parts of northern China, is the most significant threat to the species. Its preferred habitats—wetland edges and adjacent grasslands—are especially prone to drainage and conversion. The Korean Demilitarized Zone, which has served as a critical refuge for White-naped and Red-crowned Cranes, is highly vulnerable to armed conflict or to development should political tensions between the North and South be resolved. Other threats include overexploitation of wetland resources, ineffective management of key protected areas, indiscriminate pesticide use, and the proposed dams on the Amur River and on the Yangtze River at Three Gorges. The dense concentrations of wintering Hooded and White-naped Cranes at Izumi in Japan are highly susceptible to disease outbreaks.
Conservation measures to protect the White-naped Crane and its habitats have included: legal protection in all range countries; international cooperation to protect the species and to manage key protected areas in the China-Russia-Mongolia border region; establishment of protected areas in important breeding and wintering habitats; regular surveys of the population at migration stopover points and on the main wintering grounds; expanded research on the species throughout its range; and the involvement of non-governmental organizations in research, habitat protection, and captive propagation programs. Limited releases of captive-reared birds have been carried out at the Zhalong Nature Reserve in China and the Khinganski Nature Reserve in Russia.
Priority conservation measures include: expanded international cooperation in managing protected areas and in research on migration patterns and timing; expansion of existing reserves and establishment of new protected areas (especially in Mongolia, northeastern China, and the Korean Peninsula); dispersion of the wintering crane populations at Izumi; development of integrated land use and conservation programs in key watersheds; assessment of the environmental impacts of large-scale dam and development projects; continuing surveys of the population; more complete identification of the species’ breeding grounds, especially in northeastern China; professional training opportunities for reserve managers and conservation officials; improved agricultural information services for farmers; and community-based conservation education programs involving cranes and wetlands.
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|Japan (Izumi)||1800-2100||Increasing||Ohsako 1994|
|Korean Peninsula||100-200||Unknown||F. Kaliher pers. comm.|
|China (Poyang Lake)||approx. 3,000||Unknown||Song et al. 1995|
|Total||4900-5300||Stable to declining
(based on loss of
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|IUCN category||Vulnerable, under criteria
A1c,d A2c C1
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Information on historical changes in the range of the White-naped Crane is limited. According to Flint (1978), the breeding range was apparently more extensive in the past. Wintering areas were probably widespread across the Korean peninsula (Won 1981). Austin (1948) reported that the White-naped Crane, “in common with the other species [of cranes in Korea], has suffered considerable decimation in the last few decades with the encroachment of civilization, particularly from firearms, on its wintering grounds.” World War II and the Korean War damaged many of the species’ stopover points and wintering areas (Flint 1978, Won 1981). These impacts, together with other habitat-related changes (including changes in agricultural practices), apparently contributed to its decline in these years.
The present breeding range has not been fully determined. Known breeding grounds are in northeastern Mongolia, northeastern China, and adjacent areas of southeastern Russia (Smirenski 1980, Ma 1991, Su 1993). A minimum of 1,000 White-naped Cranes breed in northeastern Mongolia and adjacent Russia, primarily in riparian wetlands along the Uldz and other rivers (J. Harris pers. comm.). Further east, breeding pairs are scattered along the middle Amur and Ussuri Rivers and their tributaries, and in wetlands bordering Lake Khanka. Many likely breed in remote northern areas of Heilongjiang and Inner Mongolia in China. The number and distribution of breeding White-naped Cranes in these provinces are still being investigated (some 8-10 pairs have been observed in Jilin Province). Several wetland reserves established in this region to protect breeding populations of Red-Crowned Cranes also provide protection for lesser numbers of White-naped Cranes.
White-naped Cranes from the eastern portion of the breeding range migrate to and through the Korean peninsula (Ozaki 1991; Higuchi 1993; Higuchi et al. 1992, 1994b, 1995; Chong et al. 1994). In the autumn and spring, about 2,000 White-naped Cranes stop at several sites in or near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. The most important sites are the Choelwon basin, the Han River estuary, and the lower Imjin River (Higuchi et al. 1994b, Kaliher 1993c, F. Kaliher pers. comm.). Most of the other important resting sites are in North Korea. These include the Baekchon wetlands (North Korea Natural Monument No. 164), the Eunyool fields (NKNM No. 133), and wetlands near Mundok, Kumya, Orang, and Sonbong (Chong et al. 1994). The estuary of the Nakton River in South Korea also serves as an important resting area (Higuchi 1993, S. Kim pers. comm.). Several hundred White-naped Cranes remain through the winter at sites on the DMZ. The others continue south to the island of Kyushu in Japan. They remain at Izumi, in western Kyushu, from early November to late February, where they are sustained by an artificial feeding program. This program began in 1952 and is thought to be the main factor behind the population’s dramatic increase from only 20 birds at that time to as many as 2,100 in recent counts (Chong 1987, Ohsako 1994, Matano 1995; see also the Hooded Crane species account in this volume).
About 3,000 White-naped Cranes from the western portion of the breeding range migrate across central and eastern China to wintering grounds in Hunan, Jiangxi, Anhui, and Jiangsu Provinces (Yang et al. 1991, Harris et al. 1995). Migration studies indicate that several hundred birds migrate along the China coast from Liaoning Province to the Yellow River delta, and then to Poyang Lake in the middle Yangtze lowlands of Jiangxi (Williams et al. 1991, Higuchi et al. 1994b, 1995). Other birds in the population migrate southeast from northern China and eastern Mongolia, rest at the delta of the Yellow River in Shandong Province, and then move on to Poyang Lake. A few birds winter at Dongting Lake in Hunan Province.
It is not known if the two main wintering populations meet in their breeding range. The populations may mix in an intermediate zone. As yet, migration studies have not determined if any birds from the west migrate eastward or vice versa (J. Harris pers. comm.).
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|China||B, M, W|
|North Korea||M, W|
|South Korea||M, W|
|B = Present during breeding season|
|M = Present during migration|
|W = Present during winter|
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The breeding grounds of the White-naped Crane in Russia, Mongolia, and China typically include wetlands and wet meadows in broad river valleys, along lake edges, and in lowland steppes or mixed forest-steppe areas (Li et al. 1991, Su et al. 1991, Fujita et al. 1994). They nest and feed in shallower sedge-dominated wetlands and along wetland edges, foraging in adjacent grasslands and croplands. On their breeding grounds they feed predominantly on insects, small vertebrates, seeds, and the roots and tubers of sedges and other wetland plants. Nests are mounds of dried sedges and grasses in open wetlands. Eggs, usually two per clutch, are laid from April to late-May. Incubation lasts 28-32 days and chicks fledge at 70-75 days.
During migration and on their wintering grounds, they use both wetlands and agricultural fields, feeding on waste grains, seeds, and tubers. At the feeding stations in Japan, they are provided with rice and other cereal grains, while also using nearby cultivated fields (Ohsako 1994). In the Korean peninsula, they use rice paddies, fallow fields, and the edges of reservoirs in the Panmunjom and Choelwon valleys, as well as mudflats in the Han, Naktong, and Imjin River estuaries (Kaliher 1994, Pae and Won 1994, Halvorson and Kaliher 1995). White-naped Cranes are proficient diggers. In the Han River estuary and at Poyang Lake they excavate the tubers of several species of sedges, in particular Scirpus maritimus, S. fluvialis, Vallisneria spiralis, Suaeda japonica, and Salsola komarovi (Cha 1986, Won 1986, Koo 1986, Chen et al. 1987).
In many portions of its breeding and winter range, the White-naped Crane is regularly found in the company of other cranes. The White-naped is among the four species of cranes that occur simultaneously during the winter at China’s Poyang and Dongting Lakes. The White-naped is intermediate in its ecological niche—somewhat less aquatic than the Siberian Crane, somewhat more aquatic than the Hooded and Eurasian Cranes. In breeding areas that are shared with the Red-crowned Crane, White-naped Cranes prefer to feed in drier reed-sedge and sedge marshes, often remaining at one site and digging there for food items (Red-crown Cranes tend to forage more extensively). White-naped Cranes also feed regularly in nearby crop fields (Su et al. 1991, Li P. et al. 1991, S. Smirenski pers. comm.). In breeding areas in Mongolia and Russia (Transbaikalia) that are shared with the Demoiselle Crane, the White-naped prefers wetter areas with relatively high vegetation, such as the shores of shallow lakes (Fujita et al. 1994).
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Habitat loss and degradation are critical problems throughout the species’ range. Destruction of wetlands due to agricultural expansion in the breeding range (especially in the Amur River basin, the Sanjiang Plain, and other parts of northeastern China) poses the most significant threat. In some areas of China and Mongolia, White-naped Cranes benefit from the presence of upland agricultural lands nearby. Because of its breeding habitat requirements, however, the species occurs in areas that are especially prone to large-scale agricultural conversion. Extensive wetland reserves have been established in northern China to protect the sympatric Red-crowned Crane, but these generally protect only the shallow waters where Red-crowned Cranes spend their entire breeding period. By contrast, wetland edges and adjacent grasslands, which White-naped Cranes prefer, are rapidly being drained and converted to cropland. This results not only in direct loss of habitat, but increased incidence of human disturbance of breeding birds (Su 1992, 1993). Meanwhile, smaller (and thus usually unprotected) wetlands in the breeding range remain subject to heavy development pressure.
The species faces other habitat problems in its breeding range. A series of dams have been proposed in the Amur River basin. If constructed, they would have a critical impact on the breeding grounds through flooding and increased agricultural development of natural areas (Archibald 1992d). In the Amur basin, grass fires, livestock grazing, and indiscriminate use of pesticides may also affect breeding success (Smirenski 1990). Agricultural and industrial pollution present a serious threat at several breeding areas, including Muraviovka Nature Park, the Zhuravlini and Amurski Game Refuges, and Daurski and Lake Khanka Nature Reserves. At Zhalong Nature Reserve in China, economic activities (including reservoir construction, reed cutting, and overfishing) have altered the composition of habitat types in the reserve while reducing the output of marsh resources used by local communities (Harris 1992a, Su 1993). Hydrological changes due to drainage activities beyond the reserve boundaries have affected wetlands within protected areas, especially in the Chinese reserves.
Stopover points and other migratory habitats are also at risk, especially in the Korean peninsula. In the south, many agricultural fields can no longer support cranes due to the intensification of farming practices. Lack of suitable resting areas has forced small flocks to wander among scattered remnants of habitat, rendering them vulnerable to poaching (S. Kim pers. comm.). Human disturbance of cranes is also a factor (Pae and Won 1994).
Pressures on the Korean DMZ are the most significant long-term threat to the wintering and migrating cranes. Should military conflict occur in Korea, the impact on crane habitats would be devastating. Conversely, should political unification of the Korean peninsula occur, development pressures on the remaining habitats would quickly increase, especially in and along the current DMZ (Higuchi et al. 1995). The Han River and its estuary would likely be reopened to navigation and the bordering wetlands diked and converted to cropfields. The Choelwon Basin and Panmunjom Valley are likely candidates for industrial development zones. Preparations for such industrial expansion (e.g., surveying of road and railroad routes) are already proceeding in anticipation of reunification (Kaliher 1993b, 1994). These threats are compounded by a lack of conservation education and training opportunities and by practical difficulties in studying cranes in military-secured areas (Halvorson and Kaliher 1995).
White-naped Cranes face additional threats on their wintering grounds. The wintering populations of White-naped and Hooded Cranes at Izumi in Japan are highly concentrated, increasing the risk of a disease outbreak. In China, the proposed dam on the Yangtze River at Three Gorges would alter the hydrological processes at Poyang and Dongting Lakes. Loss of these China wintering areas would threaten about 60% of the total species population. Poor interagency communication, a lack of clear authority, and a shortage of qualified and motivated personnel hinder effective management of the reserves at Poyang Lake and elsewhere in China (Bouffard 1993).
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Note: many of the measures noted in this section have also benefitted the other migratory crane species of East Asia.
Legal and Cultural Protection
Laws to protect the White-naped Cranes have been passed in all of the range countries, but enforcement of these laws is often weak.
International Agreements and Cooperation
In recent years, international agreements have played an important role in protecting White-naped Cranes and their habitats. Migratory bird agreements have been reached between Russia and Japan, Japan and China, Russia and North Korea, and Russia and South Korea. South Korea and Japan are currently discussing such an agreement. China, Japan, and Russia are parties to the Ramsar Convention. South Korea may soon sign the Convention.
In July 1992, an International Workshop on Cranes and Storks of the Amur Basin brought together conservation scientists, officials, and NGO representatives from China, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Ukraine, Russia, and the United States. Scientists from these nations were able to pool their knowledge and produce a series of resolutions calling for protection of the Amur River ecosystem, joint studies of its ecological status and economic potential, and support for environmentally sound development alternatives for the basin (Archibald 1992d). Four sites—Muraviovka National Park, Khinganski Nature Reserve, Daurski Nature Reserve, and the Tumen River—were recommended for protection as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. These sites were subsequently included in the official Russian proposal to the Ramsar committee in 1994. The workshop also produced resolutions involving other key crane habitats in the Far East and laid the foundation for further agreements on crane and wetland conservation. The proceedings of the meeting were published in 1995 as Cranes and Storks of the Amur River (Halvorson et al. 1995).
The 1992 workshop has stimulated further international activity on behalf of the species and its habitats. In 1993, crane and wetland conservationists gathered at an international symposium in Tokyo and Sapporo, Japan, to exchange information on migration, satellite tracking, habitat analysis, distribution, ecology, behavior and wetland conservation. The proceedings, published in 1994 as The Future of Cranes and Wetlands, included a proposal for an international network of wetland protected areas in the region (Ichida 1994).
Since 1993, workshops and delegation exchanges have brought together agency officials, crane biologists, and reserve managers from the breeding and wintering portions of the species’ range. Agreements are currently being negotiated to manage on a cooperative basis the protected areas on the China-Russia border at Lake Khanka and in the China-Russia-Mongolia border region (see “Protected Areas” below). Key habitats along the Tumen River on the Russia-China-North Korea border were recommended for protection in the Appeal of the International North Asia Wetland Symposium held in Nagasaki in 1994. Friends of the Earth (Japan) and other non-governmental organizations have provided financial support for the establishment of a protected area in this region (S. Smirenski pers. comm.).
White-naped Cranes use many protected areas throughout their range, although many lack effective enforcement and management. All three countries in the White-naped Crane’s breeding range have protected breeding habitat within designated protected areas. In Russia, the species breeds in Muraviovka Nature Park; Khinganski, Lake Khanka, and Daurski Nature Reserves; and the Amurski, Ganukan, and Zhuravlini Game Refuges. In Mongolia, they are found in the Degee Numrug and Daguurun Nature Reserves. In China, they breed in the Hong He, Changlindao, Xingkai Hu, Zhalong, Momoge, Xianghai, Keerqin, and Dalinor Nature Reserves (Harris 1991b, 1992a, 1994c, Ma and Li 1994). In 1992, Russia and China agreed to collaborate in protecting the wetlands around Lake Khanka (Xingkai Hu). In 1994, China, Mongolia, and Russia established a trilateral protected area for cranes that breed in the wetlands and grasslands of the Daurian Steppes where the three nations meet (see Harris 1991b).
Important resting areas along the migration routes of the White-naped Crane are protected by circumstance (in the Korean DMZ) and in several designated protected areas: the Shuangtaizi and Shengjin Lake Nature Reserves in China; the Kangryong, Kumya, Panmun, and Anbyon Natural Monuments in North Korea; and the Han River Estuary Natural Monument and the small (0.397 km2) Choelwon Bird Reserve in South Korea. Again, lack of management or enforcement limits the effectiveness of these areas. Due to ecological changes, for example, fewer cranes are wintering in the Han River and Choelwon areas, and now use them only as stopovers (F. Kaliher pers. comm.).
Portions of the wintering grounds in China are protected in the Poyang and East Dongting Lake Nature Reserves. Although not a true protected area in the sense of protecting critical natural habitat, the Izumi Crane Park in Kyushu does serve as a sanctuary for the wintering populations in Japan.
Habitat Protection and Management
Little habitat management has been undertaken specifically for the species. Directed management activities have occurred within some protected areas. At East Dongting Lake and Poyang Lake Nature Reserves in China, restoration and maintenance of habitat for the White-naped and other crane species has been pursued through improved management of water levels and resource extraction, and through efforts to better coordinate land use on adjacent lands. The long-standing artificial feeding program at the Izumi wintering grounds in Japan has been noted above.
The White-naped Crane population has been surveyed at migration stopover points in Korea and on the main wintering grounds in Korea, Japan, and China. The migratory and wintering populations in Korea were first surveyed in 1973, and have been intermittently surveyed since (Won 1984; Kaliher 1993c, 1994). Accurate winter counts at Izumi have been conducted annually since the early 1950s. Annual winter counts have been carried out at Poyang Lake in China since the early 1980s (Song et al. 1995). These counts tend to be less accurate than those at Izumi due to the larger area requiring coverage and the extensive movements of the cranes within this area. (In general, winter surveys of the White-naped Cranes in China are not as accurate as surveys of Siberian Cranes, as the latter are more conspicuous). In December 1993, over 3,000 White-naped Cranes were counted at Poyang Lake, the most ever recorded for the species in China (Harris et al. 1995).
Until the mid-1970s, very little research had been carried out on the biology, ecology, and conservation needs of the White-naped Crane. Since then, its endangered status has stimulated extensive studies by Chinese, Mongolian, and Russian scientists. Much of this information is available in collections published by the USSR Working Group on Cranes, and in the recent Proceedings of the 1987 International Crane Workshop (1991), The Future of Cranes and Wetlands (1994), and Cranes and Storks of the Amur Basin (1995).
Field studies of the White-naped Crane have been carried out in the species’ breeding range (e.g., Smirenski 1980, Su et al. 1991, Bold et al. 1995); along the migration routes (e.g., Archibald 1981b, Williams et al. 1991, Xu X. et al. 1991, Kaliher 1994, Shibaev and Surmach 1994); and on their wintering grounds (e.g., Won 1986, Abe et al. 1987, Chen et al. 1987, Kaliher 1993c, Pae and Won 1994, Harris et al. 1995). Interactions of White-naped and Red-crowned Cranes on their shared breeding grounds have been studied by Su (1993). Fujita et al. (1994) compared breeding habitats of White-naped and Demoiselle Cranes in Mongolia. Color banding and satellite telemetry studies have provided critical information on the species’ migration route, stopovers, and behavior (Dombrowski 1988; Ozaki 1991, 1995; Higuchi 1993; Higuchi et al. 1992, 1994b, 1995; Kaliher 1993a; Chong et al. 1994; Xu et al. 1995).
The Proceedings of the 1987 International Crane Workshop contain several reports on the breeding behavior and ecology of the species in China (Li P. et al. 1991, Su et al. 1991, Yuan and Li 1991). Additional breeding behavior studies have appeared in the Chinese literature (Yang et al. 1986, Zhu 1986, Li et al. 1987, Li F. et al. 1991). Studies relevant to the captive propagation of cranes for conservation purposes have been conducted by Tian et al. (1990, 1992).
Non-governmental organizations have been especially important in efforts to protect this species in the Amur River basin. The Soviet Working Group on Cranes carried out projects in this region from 1980 to 1991. Since 1992, conservation activities in the basin have been conducted by the Socio-Ecological Union of Russia, with technical and financial support from ICF, the Wild Bird Society of Japan, the National Audubon Society, and The Nature Conservancy (Archibald 1992d). Biologists working at the Khinganski Nature Reserve in Russia have recently established the Amur Crane Foundation with the goal of raising funds for the support of regional crane conservation activities. An Amur Program has been developed that stresses the need to integrate conservation goals and development needs (Smirenski 1995, Smirenski et al. 1995). NGOs have played an important role in other portions of the species’ range. For example, the Wild Bird Society of Japan and ICF, in partnership with Korean ornithologists, have sponsored on-going research on the migration route and stopover areas of the species in Korea (Chong et al. 1994).
Education and Training
Crane and wetland education programs are prominently featured at many of the protected areas within the species’ range, especially at Zhalong Nature Reserve near Qiqihar, Xianghai Nature Reserve in Jilin, and Muraviovka Nature Park in Russia. At the Izumi Crane Park in Japan, an education center provides visitors with information on the wintering flocks of White-naped and Hooded Cranes.
Captive Propagation and Reintroduction
The GCAR for cranes estimates that 409 White-naped Cranes were in captivity worldwide as of 1993 (Mirande et al. in press a). An international studbook for the species is maintained in North America and regional studbooks are kept in Japan, Europe, and the United Kingdom. Regional management programs have been developed for captive White-naped Crane populations in North America, Europe, and Japan. The GCAR determined that an adequate number of founders is currently breeding in captivity. Many pairs have produced their targeted number of offspring. Reproduction of these pairs has been curtailed, and future reproduction by their offspring will be limited. At this point, additional institutions are needed to maintain non-breeding individuals.
Reintroduction of White-naped Cranes has taken place on a limited basis at the Zhalong and Khinganski Nature Reserves, where birds have been released near research and education facilities. These birds have been raised in captivity, and thus have a greater tolerance for human beings. At least one pair, raised in captivity and released at Khinganski, has successfully migrated and bred.
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Legal and Cultural Protection
Because White-naped Cranes often share protected areas with several other crane species, the following priorities should be pursued in concert with those defined in the other species accounts.
Both professional training and public education are critical to the future of the species. For professional training, the following measures are of highest priority:
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