Thousands of these dinosaur-like birds will soon be migrating through Michigan
Over the coming weeks, Michigan will witness the spectacular migration of one of the world’s oldest bird species.
Sandhill cranes are often compared to living dinosaurs, and with good reason: Not only are they believed to have existed in their present form for more than 2.5 million years, let their bright yellow eyes, seven-foot wingspan and trumpet calls they appear like creatures from Jurassic Park.
At this time of year sandhill cranes begin their annual migration from their summer breeding grounds in northern North America to winter quarters in the southern United States and northern Mexico. As the species’ migration peaks from mid-October to November, thousands of these graceful giants migrate across the states of Great Lakes and Plains, creating breathtaking scenes as they gather in large groups to rest and refuel as the sun goes down.
In Michigan, these gatherings are most commonly found in the lower peninsula in large fields and swamps. For those wishing to witness this phenomenon in person, the following locations are known stopping points for sandhill cranes:
Bernard W. Baker Shrine: This 980-acre sanctuary near Belleview was North America’s first bird sanctuary specifically dedicated to the conservation of sandhill cranes. The reserve offers fantastic views of the birds when large flocks fly over Big Marsh Lake to perch and is also home to the annual CraneFest, held each October. More information here
Hahne Sanctuary: The 1,000-acre Phyllis Haehnle Memorial Audubon Sanctuary near the Waterloo Recreation Area in Jackson County is Michigan’s largest sandhill crane roosting area. Bring your binoculars and be amazed. Visit haehnlesanctuary.org for more information
Waterloo Recreation Area: The hiking and nature trails in this vast park are worth the trip alone, but the 3,000 hectares of protected wetlands, which provide vital nesting ground for sandhill cranes, are a bonus for bird watching at this time of year. Parking information here
Kensington Metro Park: Spend an afternoon walking the beautiful nature trails of this popular Detroit-area metro park, prime territory for wildlife photography and for an up-close encounter with sandhill cranes. (You may be surprised to see that some of the park’s cranes are not afraid of humans; it’s still a good idea to keep your distance and by no means try to feed them, as their beaks 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 the birds en masse leave nearby fields at dusk and migrate to Big Marsh Lake. The event includes an artists’ village, nature walks, food truck, children’s activity tent, special Michigan Birds of Prey program and more. Hosted by the Kiwanis Club of Battle Creek. October 8th and 9th from noon to dusk. Located in the Kiwanis Youth Conservation Area, 22300 15 Mile Rd., Bellevue, Michigan. details here
Learn more about Michigan’s sandhill cranes, including more about crane observation and conservation, here at Michigan Audubon and at the Michigan DNR’s sandhill crane migration page.
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