Michigan is home to a wonder of the prehistoric world—the sandhill crane. Here’s where to see them.
OKEMOS, Mich.—There are 450 species of birds currently living in Michigan, none larger than our “prehistoric” sandhill cranes, which grow up to five feet tall with wing spans of up to seven feet.
The cranes are also the world’s longest living bird species, dating back more than 2.5 million years in their current form.
While you might spot them on golf courses or parks like Kensington Metropark in Milford, the birds are about to pack up shop and head south for the winter—providing an unrivaled spectacle for Michigan bird watchers, according to Lindsay Cain of the Michigan Audubon in Okemos.
“The prehistoric call and flocks of these large-winged, long-legged birds are an experience like no other,” she said.
Cain, the Audubon’s education coordinator since 2016, has witnessed huge crowds of the massive birds during the migration season, which runs from now until late November, and calls it a must-see experience for all ages.
The birds are currently gathering in large numbers at Michigan sanctuaries and preparing to migrate. The exact moment they decide to fly south happens spontaneously, but for now, you can see them congregating in large numbers, a rare treat for young and old alike.
“Regardless of when or where you’re able to see them, there really is nothing like hearing a flock fly into a marsh to roost at night,” Cain said.
How to View Michigan’s Sandhill Cranes During Migration Season
Typically, Michigan’s cranes are found before 10 a.m. and after 2 p.m. in rural areas, foraging in fields near wetlands, farming communities and along roadsides.
When the sun begins to set, the cranes roost together in marshes.
As the crane population starts to gather and migrate south in mid-fall, they can be spotted in the following locations according to the Audubon:
Haehnle Sanctuary- Known for its sandhill crane viewing, this bird sanctuary is 6 miles northeast of Jackson at 49272 Seymour Road in Pleasant Lake.
Waterloo Recreation Area- With 3,000 acres of protected wetlands, cranes are often seen throughout this area, flying south from late October through late November while nesting at the adjacent Haehnle Sanctuary.
The recreation area is located at 16345 McClure Rd. in Chelsea, Michigan.
Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary- Located at 21145 15 Mile Road in Bellevue, Michigan, northwest of Battle Creek, the sanctuary offers “the best view of cranes in large groups” as they roost at Big Marsh Lake, the Audubon said on its website.
The fields and wetlands surrounding the sanctuary are important feeding areas for migrating cranes as well.
Kensington Metropark- The cranes are a popular attraction along the walking trails of this nearly 5,000-acre park. The birds roost in the nature center’s wetlands area and can often be seen flying around the park.
Kensington is located at 4570 Huron River Pkwy. in Milford Charter Twp., Michigan.
Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge- Hundreds of cranes can be spotted at this nearly 10,000-acre wildlife sanctuary, which has been designated as a United States Important Bird Area for its global significance to migratory birds.
In addition, tens of thousands of Canada geese and ducks reside at the sanctuary among hundreds of other species you may be able to spot flying south for the winter. Pelicans have even been spotted as recently as a month ago according to visitor reviews.
The sanctuary is located at 6975 Mower Road in Saginaw, Michigan, about 20 minutes from the popular Frankenmuth resort town.