Haehnle Memorial Sanctuary sees Sandhill Cranes in record numbers

Sandhill cranes, once near extinction, are turning up in record numbers after a decade-long recovery. Photo by Tom Hodgson.

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.”

Sandhill cranes return to their birthplace to mate before migrating to warmer climates during the winter months. Photo by Tom Hodgson.

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.


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  • Harold

    The Haenhle Sanctuary is a great staging area for thousands of Sandhill Cranes, but very, very few of those birds nest in the Sanctuary’s marsh during the spring. For a map of Sandhill Crane nesting sites in Michigan, you can view the results from the Michigan Breeding Bird Atlas at: http://www.mibirdatlas.org/Portals/12/MBA2010/SACRaccount.pdf

    To explore general distribution data of Sandhill Cranes (and other species, of course), http://www.ebird.org is a great resource. One of the limitations of eBird is that it is a compilation of thousands of observations–and relatively few people make reports from sparsely settled areas, such as in much of northern Canada. Sandhill Cranes, indeed, nest in these northern regions as I can personally attest. Many years ago, I saw a flock of 24 Sandhill Cranes flying south from Hudson Bay (as I was canoeing north). In one stretch of about 400 miles, I saw no other people…but plenty of wildlife.