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Going Green: Sandhill cranes make annual stop in Indiana

The sandhill crane was once considered a threatened species, but not anymore, thanks in part to the Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area.
Credit: John Kofodimos
Sandhill cranes at Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area

MEDARYVILLE, Ind. — Even though the cold weather is coming, it's still important to get outside! 

There is a special outdoor area in Indiana that you can share with your family and possibly even spot a sandhill crane.

The unique and social bird stands 3-4 feet high with a long, slender neck. Its wingspan can exceed five feet wide and it has a unique red crown on its head, but the most distinctive quality is the chatter it creates. 

A few weeks ago, the cranes stopped by Goose Pond in Linton. Sandhill cranes vacation for a few days every year in Indiana, including at the Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area. They've been visiting since the late 1970s.

"It was kind of a coincidence because they started coming when they started managing this big open area behind me for Canada geese," said NIck Echterling at the Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area. "And it turns out that sandhill cranes really liked it as well and sandhill crane numbers were pretty low. In the late '70s/early '80s, at one point there were only 300 breeding pairs in the country."

The sandhill crane was once considered a threatened species, but not anymore, thanks in part to the Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area.

"So the cranes come to Jasper-Pulaski every year because it's directly between their two migration points, they raise their young and breed in Wisconsin, Michigan and southern Canada, and then they winter primarily in Georgia and Florida," Echterling said. "And if you were to draw a straight line between them two points, Jasper-Pulaski, you'd be right in the middle."

But how do the cranes know to stop at the Jasper-Pulaski area? 

"They're actually taught migration routes from their parents and older cranes. So it's kind of passed down to their generations," Echterling said.

From mid-September through mid-December, the Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife DNR staff take a weekly sandhill crane count. 

"So right now, our high count here was 25,000 cranes today. The entire population of the eastern greater sandhill crane is around 90,000 today," Echterling said.

Sunrise or sunset is the best time to see the sandhill cranes. You can see them flying in during sunset or just hanging out. You can also hear the orchestra of gabbing and chirping birds coming from a distance.

"They're a pretty vocal animal when they communicate, somewhat together while they're migrating.  And they're also vocal during breeding season and courtship season is actually now and on their return flight," Echterling said.

Every year, families come to view this intriguing flock of birds. 

"I thought it was really an amazing experience to get to see the sandhill cranes. Just a little bit of their daily lives and how they interact with the environment," said Annanya Cronin, who visited from Fishers with her family.

You can also see the sandhill cranes by visiting the Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area now through mid-December, before they head south for the winter.  

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