Sandhill cranes were once on the verge of extinction. That influenced the U.S. to implement laws in 1916 to protect the species. But now that these migratory birds have made a steady comeback in recent years, Alabama has decided to permit hunters to kill three sandhill cranes each.
The state hasn’t had a new species to hunt in about 13 years — the last was an alligator in 2006.
Starting in September, Alabama residents can register for a hunting permit. The registration process will be open for several weeks and is limited to residents 16 years or older or Alabama lifetime license holders.
However, not everyone will be guaranteed a permit.
“The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division will conduct a draw hunt of 400 permits to hunt sandhill cranes,” David Rainer with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said.
Hunters will be chosen at random through a computer-controlled drawing set to begin in October. Those who are drawn will still “have to take an online test that includes species identification and regulations,” Seth Maddox, WFF Migratory Game Bird Coordinator said.
“Once they pass that test, we will issue the permit and tags. Then they must purchase a federal duck stamp and HIP (Harvest Information Program) license, and if hunting on a WMA (wildlife management area), a WMA license. Once they have all that, they are good to hunt.”
Maddox added that the number of permits issued were based on the amount of sandhill cranes counted over the course of five years — an average of 15,029 birds.
To keep track of the population, Alabama conducts aerial surveys each fall and winter. Since 2010, the state has seen a 16% increase of sandhill cranes on average per year. Due to the spike in numbers, residents were granted a three-year experimental season by wildlife officials, starting this year.
“For the experimental season, we elected to keep the harvest below 10 percent because we wanted to take it slow and ensure hunting will not be detrimental to the population,” he said.
Residents are only allowed to kill three sandhill cranes per permit.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology says sandhill populations recover slowly, partly because each breeding couple tends to have only one chick per year that survives.
Sandhills are one of two crane species found in North America. They are gray-colored, large birds that stand about 3 to 5 feet tall.
Alabama is the third state east of the Mississippi River to allow hunting the sandhill crane, joining Tennessee and Kentucky.