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Sandhill Cranes

(Grus canadensis)
Fall Migratory Stopover
Jasper Pulaski State Fish and Wildlife Area, Indiana

General Information

The Sandhill Crane is one of the two Crane species that regularly occurs in the US. The other is the Whooping Crane (Grus americana). Several races of Sandhill Crane are recognized. Some races are migratory, others are sedentary. The Greater Sandhill Crane, shown here at Indiana's Jasper Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Refuge, breed in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and parts of Canada and winter in Southern Georgia and Florida.

 

Sandhill Cranes
Figure 1 - Sandhill Cranes

 

The Greater Sandhill Crane, standing about 3.5 feet tall with a wingspan of 6 to 7 feet, is the largest race of Sandhill Cranes.

 

During the fall migration, some 12,000 to 16,000 Cranes make Indiana their home. The highest population estimate of 32,000 individuals occurred in the 1991 migratory season.

Sandhill Cranes Stopover in Indiana
Figure 2 - Sandhill Cranes Stopover in Indiana

 

Sandhill Crane Population Estimate
Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area:

If you would like to learn the current status of the crane population, you can contact the IDNR Jasper Pulaski office at 1-219-843-4841 or visit:

Indiana DNR Jasper Pulaski Sandhill Crane site
http://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/3091.htm

- November 15, 2006: 15,456
- November 8, 2006: 14,000
- October 18, 2006: 8,200
- November 24, 2004: 24,000
- November 20, 2003: 17,524
- October 9, 2002: 8,813
- November 6, 2001: 15,282
-
October 25, 2001:10,000
- October 3, 2001: 4,043
-
November 9, 2000: 13,000
- October 13, 2000: 11,666
- September 22, 2000: 1,000
- September 29, 1999: 6,500
- November 19, 1998: 13,430
- October 15, 1998: 12,000
- September 28, 1998: 1,000
- November 26, 1997: 19,642
- November 19, 1997: 27,642
- November 12, 1997: 15,000
- November 5, 1997: 12,000
- October 29, 1997: 12,542
- October 15, 1997: 7,500
- October 8, 1997: 6,000 to 8,000

 

Northwest Indiana
Figure 3 - Northwest Indiana

The Jasper-Pulaski State Fish and Wildlife Area, located on Route 421 about 40 miles south of Michigan City, Indiana, is in a region once famous for the vast Kankakee Marsh.

This marsh, which consisted of more than a million acres of reeds, bogs, ponds, wild rice, lily pads, moss, beaver, waterfowl and other wetland species, was drained in the 19th and early 20th Century to make way for agriculture. Today, this vast wetland is essentially gone.

The arrival of the Cranes also brings a migration of interested birdwatchers to view this awesome spectacle.

A Birder’s Hotspot
Figure 4 - A Birder’s Hotspot

 

Sandhill Cranes
Figure 5 - Sandhill Cranes

 

The cranes feed in surrounding farmland in an area that was once the vast and famous Kankakee Marsh. As evening approaches, they return to congregate in the Jasper-Pulaski State Fish and Wildlife Area.

 

As evening approaches, the pace of returning birds increases. The dry rattling call of the Sandhill Crane can be heard more than a mile away. The call is distinctive. Once heard, it is not forgotten. Many times the call is heard long before the birds come into view.

 

Sandhill Cranes
Figure 6 - Sandhill Cranes

Preparing to Land
Figure 7 - Preparing to Land

 

As the density of roosting Cranes increases, returning birds must carefully pick their landing site.

Cranes returning against a sunset sky and the contrails of jetliners coming in and out of Chicago make a scenic backdrop.

Sandhill Crane Sunset
Figure 8 - Sandhill Crane Sunset

 

Cranes Fill the Sky at Dusk
Figure 9 - Cranes Fill the Sky at Dusk

After sunset and well into dusk, the Cranes continue to congregate. The sky literally swarms with returning birds. The Cranes linger here well into fall, but with the first winds of winter, they head south. In mild years, migrating birds pass through Indiana well into December and January.

 

Nesting Behavior

The nest of the Sandhill Crane, located on the ground, is a heap of plant material several feet in diameter. Two eggs are usually laid and incubation is by both parents. They hatch in about a month. The young cranes are tended by both parents, and begin to fly in a little over two months.

If you are planning a visit to the Jasper Pulaski reserve, and would like to learn the current status of the crane population, you can contact the IDNR Jasper Pulaski office at 1-219-843-4841.


See Sandhill Cranes - Spring Migration

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