Sandhill cranes have been spotted in record numbers this year at the Phyllis Haehnle Memorial Audubon Sanctuary near Chelsea, Mich.
The Michigan Audubon Society reported 8,177 cranes gathered in the sanctuary Monday, November 19, the most birds ever seen there since the 1900s.
Once on the verge of extinction, sandhill crane populations have been on the rise across the United States for the past decade, according to Audubon Society spokesperson Mallory King.
“They were almost extinct at the beginning of the 1900s, their feathers were in high demand and they were being overhunted,” King said, “That started to turn around as environmental legislation was passed starting in the 1930s and 40s, and now they’ve been steadily recovering.”
The birds return to their birthplace each year to find a mate. “We’re seeing so many birds here because the sanctuary has the right habitat for them and because enough of the cranes born here last year survived to return,” King said.
Until the water remains frozen throughout the day, the cranes return to the sanctuary every evening. The best viewing of the birds is between an hour and a half and two hours before dark, according to the Audubon Society.