Sandhill Cranes

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Sandhill Cranes at Muscatatuck

For over 20 years sandhill cranes have been stopping at Muscatatuck during their spring and fall migrations.  Some cranes have decided the refuge is far enough south to go for the winter and between 20,000-45,000 birds now spend the winter in the area.   

Cranes that visit here usually spend their days feeding in farmlands south of Seymour (especially harvested cornfields) and across southern Jackson County. At night the birds roost in shallow water in inaccessible refuge marshes as a protection from predators. Sometimes the birds may be observed flying over Hwy. 31 in the morning and evening on their way to and from the feeding areas. Opportunities to view feeding cranes from country roads adjacent to the refuge are excellent during the day. Sandhills are usually tolerant of passing vehicles when they are feeding but will fly if people leave vehicles and approach them. Sometimes small groups of cranes may be seen on refuge marshes early in the morning but that is not common.

The first sighting of cranes at Muscatatuck always depends of weather but usually occurs in late November.  Numbers increase in December and usually peak in late January and early February as the spring migration starts. Winter resident cranes usually leave the area by mid February and migrants finish passing through by early March. Most of the cranes that visit the refuge will spend their summers in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and southern Canada. A few birds nest along the northern edge of Indiana.

Sandhill cranes are very intelligent and social birds that can live over 30 years in the wild. They maintain a life-long pair bond and travel in family groups. In the spring cranes can often be observed "dancing" with each other. It is believed the dances have many different purposes- as courtship rituals, territorial statements, bonding displays, and stress relievers.