Nature Talk: Migration of the Sandhill Crane

I know that many people go to Nebraska on the sandy hills (hence the name) along the Platte River in the spring to see the Sandhill Crane migration, but I like to go to Crex-Meadows in the fall.

This crane has settled into a wetland. Photos by Ron Taube
This crane has settled into a wetland.
Photo by Ron Taube

One of the nice things about Crex-Meadows is that it’s only 75 miles away.

My friend Russ and I set out for Crex-Meadows a little over a week ago heading north for 60 miles along Highway 35 to Highway 70 then east 15 miles and into Wisconsin to Grantsburg.

Our primary goal that day was to see lots of Sandhill’s and we really did.

According to the Crex-Meadows website the Sandhill population right now,in mid October is at its peak of about 12,000.

As we drove around the park mostly on the north side we saw many Sandhills feeding.

What happens each day at this time of year is the Sandhills feed there and outside of the park then they all come back to the wetlands at night sometimes 50 or more at a time.

It is quite a site to see as they fly in and sit in groups along the ponds just before sunset. By sunset you can see thousands of birds.

Many people come to Crex-Meadows park their cars and have a cup of coffee, get out their binoculars or cameras and watch the spectacle of these magnificent birds each day return to home.

The air is filled with the sounds of their unusual cooing.

The Sandhill Crane lives primarily in North America and Siberia.  The males usually weigh in at around 10 pounds and the females about a pound lighter, otherwise they look virtually identical to each other.

These birds when standing can sometimes reach nearly four feet in height.

“The Sandhill has a red forehead with white cheeks and a long dark pointed bill and its long legs trail behind in flight.

These cranes have a wingspan that ranges from five and a half feet to almost seven feet and they are very skilled at soaring and flying on thermals for many hours.

It makes a trumpeting sound but not like the Canada Goose or Trumpeter Swan. It is softer than that more like a very loud mourning dove’s cooing which can be heard for miles. The female makes two calls for every call of the male.

Sandhill Cranes have a long fossil history that goes back for certain at least two and a half million years and some believe that an earlier variation found in Nebraska goes back 10 million years.

Russ and I settled in a little after five along Main Dike Road.

In addition to the continuing parade of Sandhill Cranes we saw young trumpeter swans, gadwall, pied billed grebes, greater and lesser yellowlegs and blue winged teal.

Just before we left as the sun was setting in the west we saw a merlin going after some birds in the wetlands.

Try to get out there before they head south it is one of nature’s great sights.

Editor’s note: Ron Taube is a member of the Coon Rapids Senior Center’s Creative Writers Group.

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