Migrating Sandhill Cranes

Except for three subspecies resident to Mississippi, Florida and Cuba, sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) migrate between southern United States and northern Mexico in the winter and northern North America in the summer.

Sandhill cranes usually live in pairs or small family groups. However, during migration, unrelated cranes join in groups, often numbering in the thousands, to forage and roost together. Leonard and I are fortunate to live on one of the sandhill cranes’ flyways through Northeastern California. Although most of the sandhill cranes that visit us in the spring move on to nest further north, we have many of these magnificent birds that breed here in Big Valley CA.

The first sandhill cranes arrived on February 10 this year. Currently large numbers of sandhill cranes are moving through Big Valley. I love to listen to their prehistoric-sounding calls and watch their formations passing overhead. I cannot estimate bird numbers, but this week Leonard and I saw what had to be over a thousand sandhill cranes near the Ash Creek Wildlife Refuge Headquarters (Lassen County CA).  A “ribbon” of cranes extended for at least a mile across the fields. Most were contentedly standing or probing the ground. Occasionally a small group would fly off, yet most of the cranes remained behind as seen in the photographs.

Sandhill cranes are named after Nebraska’s sandhills near the Platte River where large numbers of cranes stopover during their migration.

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