|Phyllis Haehnle Memorial Audubon Sanctuary|
HAEHNLE SANCTUARY ABOUT SANDHILL CRANES
WELCOME to the Haehnle (pronounced Han-lee – ae is long a) Sanctuary, site of a Michigan wildlife spectacle: the gathering of Sandhill Cranes prior to migration. With a panoramic view of the Mud Lake Marsh surrounded by the fall colors of trees, few wildlife wonders can rival the sight of several thousand cranes flocking to this sanctuary on a late October afternoon. After spending the day feeding on waste grain and loafing in nearby fields, they return in late afternoon to their night roosting site. Over the horizon come long skeins, flock after flock, with slow deliberate wing beats they head for the safety of Haehnle. Once over the marsh they begin their descent, first gliding, then slipping wind and finally lowering their gangly legs until gently touching down in the shallow waters of the Mud Lake Marsh.
Often their arrival is announced with calls of gar-ooo-a-a long before reaching Haehnle. This is only the prelude, because as more and more cranes arrive the marsh erupts with a cacophony of cranes trumpeting until darkness signals the cessation of calling and the last cranes have settled in for the night.
Late in the summer, Sandhills abandon their nesting territories and aggressive behavior and flock to staging areas such as Haehnle. Staging areas typically provide abundant food, protected night roosting sites and the benefits of congregating in flocks during migration. Here the routes and traditions of older, experienced birds can be passed on to less experienced individuals.
Cranes from southern Michigan migrate to Florida. Depending on the weather, most leave in November, but some have stayed through December. They usually return to Michigan in late February or early March. Sandhill prefer to migrate when the sun causes warming thermals to rise and there is a tail wind. By taking advantage of tail winds, flying in formation and by soaring, they are able to reduce energy expenditure by up to 30%. Flying at speeds up to 50 miles per hour, they can cover nearly 500 miles a day. Often they reach altitudes of over a mile.
Best Season and Time to View Cranes at Haehnle
The Greater Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis tabida) is found from the Great Lakes to the west coast - a few are now even found in New England.
Cranes fly with their necks extended and legs trailing behind. They have rapid upward wing beats and slower deliberate downstrokes. Sandhills never stand in trees. Herons fly with heads tucked back on their shoulders in an “S”, and have slow upstrokes and downstrokes.
The trumpet-like resonating gar-ooo-a-a call can be heard for over a mile depending on the wind. This loud, penetrating call is produced by a remarkably long 4-foot windpipe. The neck is only 2 feet long. To accommodate the extra length, the windpipe forms a loop next to the breastbone before attaching to the lungs.
Sandhill Cranes hold the record as the oldest living bird species. A fossil wing bone of a Sandhill was found in the Nebraskan deposit dating back 9 million years. Fossils from other members of the Order that cranes belong to, Gruiformes, date back some 60 million years at a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
A wide variety of plants and animals are eaten including snails, crayfish, worms, mice, birds, frogs, snakes, insects, acorns, roots, seeds, berries, but seldom fish. They are very fond of waste grains following the harvest of corn, wheat, barley. They can cause crop damage to newly planted corn.
Cranes are considered the most accomplished dancers in the animal kingdom. They bow, bounce into the air as high as 20 feet, flap their wings, toss sticks into the air or jump about on stiff legs. Dancing performs several important functions, especially forming and maintaining pair bonds.