In the coming weeks, Michigan will witness the spectacular migration of one of the oldest bird species in the world.
Sandhill cranes are often compared to living dinosaurs, and for good reason: not only are they believed to have existed in their present form for more than 2.5 million years, their bright yellow eyes, six-foot wingspans and trumpeting calls make them seem like creatures. from Jurassic Park.
This time of year, sandhill cranes begin their annual migration from their summer breeding grounds across northern North America to their winter homes in the southern US and northern Mexico. As the species’ migration peaks from mid-October through November, thousands of these graceful giants pass through the Great Lakes and Plains states, creating jaw-dropping scenes when they congregate in large groups to rest and refuel as the sun goes down.
In Michigan, these gatherings most often happen in the Lower Peninsula in large fields and marshes. For those who want to witness this phenomenon in person, the following places are known sandhill crane migration stop-over sites:
Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary: This 980-acre sanctuary near Belleview was North America’s first bird sanctuary dedicated specifically to the conservation of sandhill cranes. The preserve offers fantastic views of the birds as large groups fly overhead to roost at Big Marsh Lake, and is also home to the annual CraneFest every October. More information here
Haehnle Sanctuary: The 1,000-acre Phyllis Haehnle Memorial Audubon Sanctuary near Waterloo Recreation Area in Jackson County is the largest Michigan roosting area for sandhill cranes. Bring your binoculars and prepare to be wowed. More info at haehnlesanctuary.org
Waterloo Recreation Area: The hiking and nature trails at this massive park are worth the trip alone, but the 3,000 acres of protected wetlands, which provide vital nesting habitat for sandhill cranes, are a bonus for birdwatching this time of year. Park information here
Kensington Metropark: Spend an afternoon strolling this popular Detroit-area Metropark’s lovely nature trails, which are a prime area for nature photography and seeing sandhill cranes up close. (You may be surprised to see that some of the park’s cranes aren’t afraid of humans; it’s still a great idea to keep your distance, though, and definitely don’t attempt to feed them, as their bills are very sharp.) Park information here
Special event: CraneFest 2022. This two-day annual event invites people to celebrate the annual fall migration of thousands of sandhill cranes, and witness when the birds leave nearby fields at dusk en masse and head to Big Marsh Lake. The event includes an artists’ village, nature walks, food truck, children’s activity tent, a special Michigan Birds of Prey program, and more. Hosted by Kiwanis Club of Battle Creek. October 8 & 9 from noon until dusk. Located at the Kiwanis Youth Conservation Area, 22300 15 Mile Rd., Bellevue, Mich. Details here
Learn more about Michigan’s sandhill cranes, including more about crane viewing and conservation, here at Michigan Audubon and the Michigan DNR’s sandhill crane migration page.
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