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Crane Meadows
National Wildlife Refuge

Sandhill crane standing with wings spread
19502 Iris Road
Little Falls, MN   56345
E-mail: cranemeadows@fws.gov
Phone Number: 320-632-1575
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
Crane Meadows Refuge hosts one of the largest nesting populations of greater sandhill cranes in Minnesota.
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  Wildlife and Habitat

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As such, the area is a rich mosaic of habitat types ranging from lakes, small wetlands and bogs in the lowlands, to scattered oak, aspen, brush and grasslands on the uplands. This vegetative diversity has resulted in a corresponding diversity of wildlife, with wildlife typical of wetlands, woods, savannas and grasslands present.

The refuge area includes large expanses of sedge meadow wetland and encompasses two shallow open-water wetlands, Rice and Skunk Lakes. These shallow lakes are located at the confluence of the Platte River, Skunk River, Rice Creek, and Buckman Creek and historically had a supply of wild rice in the fall.

This abundance of wetland habitat provides habitat for scores of wetland-dependent birds. One of the most notable inhabitants of the area is the greater sandhill crane, a bird that had all but disappeared from Minnesota at the turn of the century. The refuge area is one of the most important breeding areas for these cranes in Central Minnesota, supporting over 30 nesting pairs. In addition, hundreds of cranes stage here during fall migration.

Waterfowl are generally abundant and include most species of ducks and geese found in the Prairie Pothole Region of Minnesota. The most common nesting species are Canada goose, mallard, blue-winged teal, and wood duck. During spring and fall migration, thousands of ducks are present on Rice and Skunk lakes and their surrounding wetlands. Notable concentrations of American wigeon, gadwall, mallard, blue-winged teal, northern pintail, northern shoveler, canvasback, redhead, green-winged teal, and mergansers have been documented.

Bald eagles, a Federally threatened species, are commonly sighted during spring and fall migration periods on Rice and Skunk lakes. An active bald eagle nest exists within the refuge acquisition boundary. Other wetland-dependent birds found in the area include great blue heron, American bittern, common loon, double-crested cormorant, common snipe, sora, sedge wren, and northern harrier.

This wetland complex is also important for wetland-dependent amphibians, mammals and reptiles. Muskrat, beaver, river otter, raccoon, and mink are common in refuge wetland habitats.

Twenty-one species of reptiles and amphibians have been recorded on the area, including wetland species such as tiger salamander, green frog, northern leopard frog, western chorus frog, and spring peeper. Also found in area wetlands are one State-listed threatened species, the Blanding's turtle; and one State species of special concern, the snapping turtle.

Surveys on area wetlands and lakes have confirmed over 40 species of fish, including common game fish species such as northern pike, walleye, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, bluegill, and black crappie. A large population of carp and other roughfish also exists. Little Rock Creek, located on the south end of the refuge acquisition area, is a State-designated trout stream.

Upland habitats include a variety of habitats ranging from open grasslands to deciduous forest. Scattered remnant stands of two rare upland plant communities, tallgrass prairie and the globally endangered oak savanna, are present on the refuge. Less than one percent of both of these communities remains in Minnesota. In addition to these remnants, active restoration of these rare habitat types is underway on former agricultural lands that have been acquired.

Common upland birds found on the area include ring-necked pheasant, wild turkey, red-tailed hawk, rough-legged hawk, great horned owl, barred owl, and over 200 species of songbirds, including indigo bunting, eastern bluebird, savanna sparrow, and scarlet tanager. In addition, the area supports breeding populations of a number of bird species that are uncommon in central Minnesota or identified as important by bird conservation collaboratives. Le Conte's sparrow, bobolink, upland sandpiper, clay-colored sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, golden-winged warbler, and short-eared owl are examples of such species.

Mammals that frequent refuge area uplands include white-tailed deer, coyote, red fox, skunk, badger, and a variety of mice, voles, shrews, and ground and tree squirrels. Upland reptiles include one State-listed threatened species, the Blanding's turtle, and two State species of special concern, the western hognose snake and gopher snake.

Documented packs of gray wolf, a Federally threatened species, exist within 10 miles of the refuge. In addition, although none have been documented, the area is within the historic range of the Federally listed Karner blue butterfly. The refuge is also on the edge of the range of the Federally threatened Canada lynx.

The ranges of four Federally threatened or endangered plants overlap the refuge area. These are: Leedy's roseroot, Minnesota dwarf trout lily, prairie bush-clover, and western prairie fringed orchid. Although none of these species has been documented in this area, there is some potential for discovery.

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