Wildlife & Habitat

Crane Meadows Prairie Habitat
  • Greater Sandhill Crane

    Greater Sandhill Crane

    One of the most notable inhabitants of the refuge is the greater sandhill crane. The refuge provides a sanctuary for one of the largest breeding populations of sandhill cranes in Minnesota. Although the cranes nearly disappeared from Minnesota at the turn of the century, visitors can now find these stately birds in a variety of locations in and around the refuge. In mid-summer, watch for fuzzy, orange “colts” as they follow their parents through prairie and wetland areas, learning to forage for food. In fall, look in upland areas of the refuge for large migratory flocks of sandhill cranes.

  • Bur Oak

    Bur Oak

    Bur oak is one of the most common tree species in Minnesota, and is the most dominant tree in the rare oak savanna habitat found at Crane Meadows. It can grow anywhere from 15 feet to 80 feet, depending on soil and light conditions. The gnarled branches, wide, rounded crown and short trunk make its silhouette unmistakable. Bur oak acorns are a favorite food of wood ducks, squirrels and red-headed woodpeckers.  

  • Gray Fox

    Gray Fox

    Populations of gray fox have been increasing in Minnesota over the past ten years as their range expands into northern Minnesota. The gray fox is a close relative of the more common red fox, and about the same size, but its fur is gray with a black tip on the tail. Gray foxes eat a variety of small mammals, but have a preference for cottontail rabbits. The gray fox is the only member of the dog family (canids) that can climb trees, which it does both to catch prey and escape from predators.

  • Oak Savanna

    Oak Savanna

    Oak savanna is considered a globally endangered habitat, and active restoration of this habitat is ongoing at Crane Meadows. It is characterized by scattered individuals and clumps of oaks growing with an understory dominated by prairie grasses and wildflowers. It is a fire-dependent plant community, and today refuge staff work to maintain and restore oak savanna with prescribed burning. Birds found near oak savanna woodlands include wild turkey, sandhill crane, eastern bluebird, scarlet tanager and indigo bunting. 

  • Tallgrass Prairie

    Tallgrass Prairie

    Crane Meadows contains approximately 900 acres of grassland habitat, including remnants of the rare tallgrass prairie. Prairie grasses and wildflowers are propagated in the refuge’s greenhouse for planting in areas where active restoration is underway. Big bluestem, little bluestem and Indiangrass, as well as purple prairie clover and black-eyed susan, are some species that are planted. Prescribed burns are used to promote vigorous growth of native plants and prevent woody vegetation from overtaking the prairie. Wildlife species using prairie areas include white-tailed deer, sandhill crane, clay-colored, field, lark, grasshopper, savannah and vesper sparrows, bobolink and eastern meadowlark.