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Crane Facts

WELCOME to the Haehnle (pronounced Hane-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.


Population Trends:


1931 survey of southern Michigan – 17 pairs

1986 survey Lower Peninsula – 630 pairs, over 200 pairs in Jackson County, and about 4,000 cranes statewide

2002 Great Lakes population is estimated to exceed 36,000 cranes, 10,000 in Michigan

2011 Eastern Population was 72,000 cranes including 20,000 cranes in Michigan.



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

Best viewing is from early October to mid November.

Cranes leave the sanctuary around sunrise to feed in nearby farm fields. They begin to return late in the afternoon, usually one or two hours before sunset.

During the day, flocks can be located by driving roads within 5 miles of the sanctuary.

Crane Facts

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.



Height: 4 feet (tallest bird in Michigan)

Wing Span: 6 feet

Weight: males 12 lbs., female 9 ½ lbs.

Coloration: Body is mousy gray with white cheeks and red forehead. They purposely rub iron rich soil and vegetation on their newly molted feathers staining them a rusty brown color. The rusty brown coloration helps with protective coloration during nesting. Juvenile cranes lack the red forehead. Both male and females have similar plumage.

Cranes Are Not Herons

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.


Living Dinosaurs

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.


Family Life

First nesting usually delayed until 4 years old.

Adult breeders maintain long-term pair bonds, but they will “divorce” especially if the first attempt at reproduction is unsuccessful.

Nesting territories range from 10 to 200 acres. Between 5 and 7 pair nest at Haehnle.

Nests are located in emergent vegetation e.g. cattails, sedges, and rushes in shallow water.

Nests are “soggy haystacks” constructed of vegetation pulled from the surrounding area into a mound. Usually 2-3 feet in diameter and 3-5 inches above the water.

Nesting begins early in April

Normally 2 eggs are laid one or two days apart. Eggs are about 4” x 2 1/2”.

Both parents incubate the eggs.

Incubation begins as soon as the first egg is laid and lasts 30 days.

Young, called “colts”, hatch 1 or 2 days apart.

Asynchronous incubation pattern and aggressive behavior often results in one of the young being lost shortly after hatching.

Young grow very rapidly gaining 10% of their body weigh each day.

Young can fly when 2 ½ months old.

Young remain with parents for 9–10 months.


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.


Fancy Dancers

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.



Estimated average life expectancy is 7 years.

Potential to live 20 to 30 years. A Siberian Crane lived to 82 years.

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