Sandhill Crane

Sandhill crane numbers are increasing at Goose Pond Sanctuary. We counted 38 cranes roosting on the pond on October 6th and we would not be surprised to see their numbers increase through the middle of November.

This is probably the most roosting sandhills we have had at Goose Pond during fall migration. In the early 1900’s, Kumlien and Hollister wrote that sandhill cranes were abundant in migration in southern Wisconsin.  In the mid 1930’s crane research Franklin Henika estimated the state’s population at 25 pairs.


In 1991, Sam Robbins wrote in Wisconsin Birdlife and sandhill cranes are  uncommon migrant and “Once the fall waterfowl-hunting season starts, Sandhills depart.  Many cranes are gone by October 15th and by November 15th most have moved out…It is doubtful that the state will ever again know the huge flocks that Hoy and Kumlien found in the 1850s.”

Sandhill cranes are staging in the fall, mostly on large wetlands, and now many cranes are staying in Wisconsin until the water turns hard.  If you want to see large numbers of staging sandhill cranes, visit Crex Meadows State Wildlife Area in northwest Wisconsin. Last November, Philip Schwarz was photographing cranes at Crex Meadows and estimated the saw 15,000 cranes.    

Another good crane staging area is northwest of Portage near Aldo Leopold’s shack. The Aldo Leopold Foundation has four viewing days and you can also see large numbers of cranes feeding in the fields during the day.  Good roads to drive are Highways T and U (between the International Crane Foundation (north of Baraboo) and the Aldo Leopold Foundation on Levee Road.   

Once cranes leave Wisconsin many stop at Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area in Indiana before heading to Florida for the winter. The Indiana DNR website states that over 10,000 cranes stop in Jasper-Pulask in fall migration.

Sandhill cranes prefer to roost in standing water or on island where they are safe from canine predators, mostly coyotes.  Goose Pond water levels are low this year  providing ideal crane roosting habitat.  When the pond is deep or dry there is no or limited crane roosting habitat.  During the day cranes fly out to feed in the surrounding picked fields of wheat, corn, and beans so near dusk is an excellent time to see the cranes and waterfowl return from feeding flights.  Our Goose Pond family of three likes to be by themselves and we frequently see them in the local fields or flying around.

Sam Robbins liked to visit Goose Pond Sanctuary and he would have been impressed on how cranes numbers increased in fall migration.  Hopefully you can stop this fall to view the cranes and other waterfowl! Stay tuned for a possible "Scope Days" announcement for waterfowl viewing at Goose Pond Sanctuary.

Written by Mark Martin & Sue Foote-Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary Managers

Photo by Tim Lumley, Flickr Creative Commons