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Now is the best time for viewing sandhill cranes before they head south

Courtesy photo by Tom Hodgson.

(Chelsea Update would like to thank Tom Hodgson for this story.)

Ideal conditions at the Phyllis Haehnle Memorial Sanctuary on Seymour Road are attracting record numbers of cranes this year.

Each Monday evening a crane survey team from the Jackson Audubon Society counts the cranes as they come into the sanctuary.  Last Monday, they counted 5,012 birds, a record number for that date. Tomorrow, Nov. 5, they expect the number to exceed 6,000, which will be an all-time record.

As area farmers continue to cut their corn, waste grain left behind provides an important food source for the cranes. Many of the fields to the west of the sanctuary were harvested last week, and are now being heavily used by the birds.

This creates a spectacular evening show as the birds leave the fields and descend into the sanctuary’s Mud Lake Marsh. Their flight path takes them directly over the viewing area, and visitors are treated to the amazing spectacle as waves of these magnificent birds fly directly overhead. Each crane measures 4 feet from head to toe and has a 6-1/2 foot wingspan. The sight of hundreds of these birds flying by is truly impressive.

Visitors who arrive about two hours before sunset will get to see the majority of the birds fly in.   As sunset approaches, the flight activity increases from small, scattered flocks to a nearly steady stream of birds. Chelsea folks who have not witnessed this event have another week or so of good viewing before the birds begin leaving for Florida and other points south.

The sanctuary is open to visitors every day. During the crane viewing season, greeters from Jackson Audubon are there on weekend afternoons/evenings to answer questions, and help them view the cranes.

For the next several Monday evenings, the survey team will be counting cranes, and visitors are welcome then as well. View the crane map. And click here for the latest sandhill crane news.

To help visitors take away more from their experience than memories, Jackson Audubon is making available free crane images. To get them, visitors fill out the “free crane image request cards” that are available at the kiosk at the observation hill. The images are then emailed directly to their computers and may be used as they see fit. They will also receive issues of the Sanctuary’s on-line only newsletter published twice each year. More than 1,200 visitors have taken advantage of this opportunity to date, and more are signing up each week.

The sanctuary is located on Seymour Road, 1½ miles west of Race Road. The quickest route from Chelsea is to take I-94 to exit 147 (Race Road), turn north. Race Road ends on Seymour Road. Turn left, and the main entrance and parking lot will be on the right.

Cranes may also be viewed in the fields during the day. Viewing is best before 10 a.m. A weekly updated crane viewing map is included here or may be downloaded at, or

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1 thought on “Now is the best time for viewing sandhill cranes before they head south”

  1. Dad had 2 sandhill cranes come to his place in Manchester by the raisen river for 6 years in a row (He moved) and I know that they still come there. They were eating out of his hands corn he would buy for them. They would knock on his patio door when they thought they were hungry. Every year they would have a baby and the next year the baby would come back to them but the 2 adults would totally desert them, he had to find his own mate.
    They are such neat birds. My Dad has passed away but sandhill cranes will always have a place in my heart because of Dad and his two birds. Luann Heller

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