The State of Wisconsin is contemplating opening a Sandhill Crane season. Cranes are said to be tasty – they have been dubbed the “ribeye of the sky” and “quite the prize for the savvy hunter”. Since I have been within 5 feet of them, I don’t think it takes a lot of savvy.

Sandhill Cranes outside a hospital in Madison WI

I live near the International Crane Foundation, where they have been working for years to bring the Whooping Crane back from the brink of extinction. The work has included humans in crane costumes raising chicks to avoid imprinting on humans, and acting like cranes to teach them crane behaviors. Ultralight aircraft have led new flocks to teach them their ancestral migratory route.

Image from US Fish and Wildlife Service

The Whooping Crane population has dipped as low as 16 birds and was up to 826 in February, 2020, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. While Sandhill Cranes are not currently endangered, will hunting them endanger the rare Whooper?

Whooping Crane image from International Crane Foundation

In the news today, hunters in Oklahoma killed four Whooping Cranes. Speculation is that they misidentified them as Sandhill Cranes, for which Oklahoma has a season. We don’t really know how many have been shot. We just know that these four were shot, abandoned, and found by Game Wardens. At least a dozen have been killed in Louisiana, according to the Times-Picayune. The International Crane Foundation identified 15 shootings from 2010-2014.

Are poachers shooting Whooping Cranes deliberately? Are they shooting them by mistake, thinking they are Sandhills while hunting legitimately? Do they think they are poaching Sandhills and getting Whoopers accidentally? If legal hunting of Sandhills further endangers the nearly-extinct Whooping Crane, is it worth it? I just want to see and hear Sandhills on bike rides in the country. I hope to live long enough to see a Whooping Crane in the wild. If you really want a ribeye, I’ll buy it for you.