The Sandhill Cranes is a large and majestic bird that may be mistaken as a Great Egret or Great Blue Heron who are in the San Joaquin Valley year round. Unlike the Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and other similar bids, the Sandhill Cranes fly with their necks extended out. This, plus their red caps and unmistakable calls makes the Sandhill Cranes easier to identify. The adult cranes have a ashy grey coloration with rusty brown wings and necks. The juveniles lack the red cap until they are around seven months old.
The majority of the Sandhill Crane that winter at Pixley NWR come from as far as Homer, Alaska. During their stay in Alaska, Canada, and Siberia, Sandhill Cranes will have up to two eggs in late April and early May. After a month of incubation by both the males and females, the chicks called "colts" are able to run around and follow the adults. Sandhill Cranes mature at three to five years of age and are monogamous, meaning they mate for life.
By the time fall rolls around the juveniles are strong enough to make the long journey with the adults back to their wintering grounds. Sandhill Cranes are very faithful birds and return to the same wintering grounds year after year as long as there is enough habitat and foraging grounds to sustain them. Sandhill Cranes have been utilizing Pixley NWR as far back as 1964. During the 2017-2018 winter surveys, the peak numbers for crane were 7416.
The best time of the day to view the Sandhill Crane is in the early morning right at sunrise when they become more vocal and begin to fly from their roost site to go forage. Another great time to see the crane is in the evening around sunset, when they begin to fly back onto the refuge in large numbers.
The foot trail at Pixley NWR is open from sunrise to sunset. The observation deck at the end of the foot trail is a great vantage point to view the crane and other wildlife. If you have any questions about the Sandhill Cranes at Pixley NWR or would like to volunteer for Sandhill Crane surveys please contact to Pixley NWR manager at 661-725-2767.