Lupinus perennis production field

Sandhill Cranes

Mar 08, 2016
Migrating sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) are a welcome sight in the Midwest, signalling the start of spring as they make their journey back north to brooding areas in Canada and Alaska. The largest population (the midcontinental flyway population) overwinter in Texas and Mexico, flying through Iowa and Nebraska. The common name of the species is derived from the sand hill habitats surrounding the Platte River in Nebraska, which is a major staging area at the half-way point in their migration. The flights will stay at these staging areas for several weeks, eating and conserving energy before continuing northward. Another population (the eastern flyway population) journeys from Florida, up through Kentucky and Indiana to eastern portions of Canada. Those eastern birds are those we get to see in northern Indiana.

A pair of Sandhill cranes, photographed in Florida, courtesy of Ken Thomas

On Friday, February 26th, we heard the unmistakeable sound of Sandhill cranes flying overhead at our nursery in Walkerton, IN. Later in the day, a large group was seen roosting in a wetland area about one mile west of the production fields. Even at a mile away, they could be heard clearly.

Cranes flying over the GH range

We were pleased to hear that our production manager spotted a flight of cranes resting in the wetland to the south of our greenhouses last Sunday. She manage to snap a few pictures with her phone before they started traveling for the day.

Cranes landing in the marsh

After the birds left, she took a photo of some tracks for a size comparison.

Sandhill crane feet in comparison to a human hand

Spotting Sandhill cranes in February is a rare thing for us in Indiana, and reports are coming in from throughout the migration areas that cranes are showing up much earlier than normal. Typically, the birds don't even leave their overwintering areas until late February or early March, with the migration peaking in mid-March. Bird counts in Nebraska are already near peak migration numbers, but it is not known if the Sandhills will make a longer-than-normal stay in their staging areas, or if they will continue to Canada ahead of schedule. Some are concerned that this is another symptom of climate change. We hope it is just a sign of an early spring this year and look forward to see them again later this fall, as they make their way back south.