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  • Writer's pictureTerry Wise

Sandhill Cranes Visit Carillon Stonegate Pond During Spring Migration North!

What a delightful surprise! Two Sandhill Cranes make rare appearance on banks of Carillon Stonegate Pond as they journey north during their Spring migration.

The Sandhill Crane is very large. They average around five feet in height. And their wingspan is approximately 6 ½ feet. They weigh in at around 7 ½ ponds. Think Sesame Street’s Big Bird, but not yellow! The Sandhill Crane is a tall, heavy-bodied bird with a long neck and long legs. They are gray overall with some tan body feathers. They have drooping feathers that form a “bustle” around its back end. And atop its head, a key identifying feature of a Sandhill Crane is its red crown.

Sandhill Cranes are elegant in flight. They fly very high in the sky during migration – some 4,000 feet high - looks like 30,000 feet or more! They fly with their neck stretched out and feet trailing behind.

Sandhill Cranes are found in several scattered areas of North America, Sandhill Cranes reach their peak abundance at migratory stopover points on the Great Plains. En route, more than three-fourths of all Sandhill Cranes use migratory staging areas in a single 75-mile stretch along Nebraska's Platte River. These magnificent birds also stage at the Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area near Demotte, Indiana (approximately two hours from here). Sandhill Cranes winter in the southern U.S. and northern Mexico. Populations nesting in Mississippi, Florida, and Cuba do not migrate. During the late spring, summer, and early fall, Sandhill Cranes can be seen at their breeding grounds in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan as well as Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska.

Sandhill Cranes mate for life. Sandhill Cranes breed in open wetland habitats surrounded by shrubs or trees. They nest in marshes, bogs, wet meadows, prairies, burned-over aspen stands, and other moist habitats, preferring those with standing water. In the early spring, as Sandhill Cranes are migrating to their breeding grounds, single cranes will start pairing up. When the pair reaches the northern breeding grounds, they mate and build a nest. Cranes build a ground nest out of plant materials. They often have two eggs, although typically only one will survive as a fledgling. In the fall, juvenile Sandhill Cranes migrate south with their parents.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Their loud, rolling, trumpeting calls are unique and can be heard from miles away. If you hear this call, look up as they may be passing high (nearly one mile) overhead on their migration.  Here is a link to the sounds of a Sandhill Crane.

How else do they behave? On their wintering grounds and during migration, Sandhill Cranes form extremely large flocks into the tens of thousands. Sandhill Cranes mate for life, choosing their partners based on dancing displays where they stretch their wings, pump their heads, bow, and leap into the air (Elaine on Seinfeld?). They threaten predators by spreading their wings and then hissing and kicking. Sandhill Cranes forage in prairies, grasslands, and marshes; they do not hunt in open water as herons and egrets do.

While these wonderful avian creatures have left to continue their long journey north, take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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