Annual Fall Migration Sandhill Crane Survey at Michigan Audubon Sanctuaries

November 10, 2015
Rachelle Roake
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Thousands of Greater Sandhill Cranes use Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary as a fall migration stopover site.

Greater Sandhill Cranes at Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary

Each fall, the US Fish and Wildlife Service coordinates an annual census of migrating Sandhill Cranes across North America. Michigan Audubon volunteers come together to survey Sandhill Cranes at two important stopover sites – Phyllis Haehnle Memorial Sanctuary and Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary. These two Michigan Audubon sanctuaries feature wetland complexes several hundred acres in size, which provide ideal roosting habitat for migrating cranes. Accurately counting the incoming cranes is no easy task and requires many eyes on the skies. Even with a large group of volunteers, large masses of birds cruising into the marsh from all directions, swirling in indecision, is nearly impossible. That being said, it’s an exciting evening for volunteers and many come out to help year after year.

The roosting area at Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary is best viewed from the nearby Kiwanis Youth and Conservation Area that the Kiwanis Club generously opens for the count and for the public on weekends from October through mid-November. The US Fish and Wildlife Service asks that the cranes are surveyed twice each fall in an attempt to catch seasonal variability that impacts when the cranes migrate. On Monday, November 2nd, Baker Sanctuary volunteers counted 3,078 Sandhills flying in to roost. The second count on Monday, November 9th yielded 3,472 cranes. Both numbers are comparatively low for this time of year, but unseasonably warm temperatures have likely kept cranes further north than usual, waiting for cooler temperatures to push them south.

The first count at Phyllis Haehnle Memorial Sanctuary produced 1,615 cranes, while the second reported 1,450. These are the highest numbers of cranes seen at the sanctuary since 2012, likely influenced by habitat work done by the Haehnle Stewardship Committee to clear encroaching shrubs from crane roosting areas. Volunteers will continue to count cranes at Haehnle on a weekly basis through the end of November. Crane numbers are expected to increase through the end of the month as temperatures drop. You can follow the crane count results and see a list of other bird species observed at the Haehnle Sanctuary Website.

Michigan Audubon would like to thank all of the volunteers that came out to count cranes at Haehnle Sanctuary (Robyn Henise, Don Henise, Ross Green, Gary Siegrist, and Steve Jerant) and Baker Sanctuary (Steve Belson, Mike Boyce, Jeff Colon, Jim Croom, Gert Croom, Jim Hewitt, Ian Mann, Jennifer Mann, Ed Merz, Richard Yarsevich, and Ron Yarsevich. Special thanks to Nancy Boyce for her fantastic cooking skills). Many of these volunteers drove an hour or more to take part in the count and we couldn’t do it without them!

If you are interested in volunteering for future crane counts or volunteering to help at these or other Michigan Audubon Sanctuaries, contact Michigan Audubon’s Rachelle Roake at The habitat work on our sanctuaries relies on funding by grants, members, and donors. Please consider supporting Michigan Audubon’s conservation program with a tax-deductible donation if you can. Thank you!