4 Types of Cranes in Michigan

4 Types of Cranes in Michigan (ID Guide & Photos) 2024

Cranes in Michigan are large, graceful, and long-legged birds that belong to the family Gruidae. They are found on every continent except Antarctica and South America. There are 15 species of cranes in the world, four of which can be seen in Michigan. In this article, we will explore the characteristics, habitats, behaviors, and conservation status of these four types of cranes in Michigan. We will also provide some tips on where and when to see them, as well as some fun facts about these amazing birds.

Types Of Cranes In Michigan

 Sandhill Cranes

 Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill cranes are the most common and widespread cranes in North America. They have gray plumage, red foreheads, white cheeks, and long, dark bills. They can stand up to 4 feet tall and have a wingspan of 6 feet. They are omnivorous and feed on seeds, grains, insects, worms, mice, frogs, and snakes.

Sandhill Crane Best Viewing Locations:

Where to See Them in Michigan?

Sandhill cranes can be found throughout Michigan, but they are especially abundant in the southern and central parts of the state. They prefer open habitats such as wetlands, marshes, grasslands, and agricultural fields. Some of the best places to see sandhill cranes in Michigan are:

  • Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary: This is the oldest bird sanctuary in Michigan and the first sanctuary dedicated to cranes in North America. It offers the best view of cranes as large groups fly overhead en route to roost at Big Marsh Lake.
  • Phyllis Haehnle Memorial Audubon Sanctuary: This is the largest roosting area for sandhill cranes in Michigan. It is located near Waterloo Recreation Area in Jackson County and covers over 1,000 acres of wetlands and uplands. It attracts thousands of cranes every fall.
  • Kensington Metropark: This is a 4,481-acre park that features a variety of habitats, including forests, meadows, lakes, and wetlands. The nature trails at the park are a prime area for crane viewing.
  • Waterloo Recreation Area: This is the largest park in the Lower Peninsula, covering over 20,000 acres of land and water. The park’s 3,000 acres of protected wetlands and the adjacent Haehnle Sanctuary provide vital nesting habitat for the cranes2.

Best Time to See:

The best time to see sandhill cranes in Michigan is during the fall migration, which usually occurs from late September to early November. During this time, thousands of cranes gather in large flocks and fly south for the winter. They can be seen feeding and resting in the fields and wetlands during the day, and flying to their roosting sites at dusk. The best time to view the cranes is at dawn or dusk, when they are most active and vocal.

Behavior and Lifecycle

Sandhill cranes are social birds that form lifelong pairs and stay together year-round. They also form larger groups or clans during migration and wintering. They communicate with each other using loud, rolling calls that can be heard from miles away. They also perform elaborate courtship dances, which involve bowing, jumping, tossing sticks, and spreading their wings.

Sandhill cranes breed in the spring and summer, usually from April to June. They build large nests of vegetation on the ground or in shallow water. They lay one or two eggs, which are incubated by both parents for about 30 days. The chicks are precocial, meaning they can walk and feed themselves soon after hatching. They stay with their parents for about 10 months, until the next breeding season.

Sandhill cranes can live up to 20 years in the wild, and even longer in captivity. They face threats from habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, as well as collisions with power lines, fences, and vehicles. They are also hunted for sport and subsistence in some areas.

Fun Facts:

  • Sandhill cranes are one of the oldest living bird species, dating back to at least 2.5 million years ago. They are closely related to the extinct woolly mammoth and the living elephant.
  • Sandhill cranes can fly up to 200 miles per day during migration, reaching speeds of up to 35 miles per hour. They can also soar at altitudes of up to 12,000 feet, using thermals to conserve energy.
  • Sandhill cranes have a special air sac system that allows them to produce their loud calls. The air sacs extend from their lungs to their throat and chest and act as resonating chambers.
  • Sandhill cranes are considered sacred by many Native American tribes, who regard them as symbols of peace, longevity, and wisdom. They are also featured in many legends, stories, and art forms.

Also Read: Black Birds in Michigan

Whooping Cranes in Michigan (Endangered Species)

Whooping Cranes in Michigan

Whooping cranes are the tallest and rarest cranes in North America. They have white plumage, black wingtips, red crowns, and black facial markings. They can stand up to 5 feet tall and have a wingspan of 7.5 feet. They are carnivorous and feed on crabs, fish, frogs, snakes, rodents, and small birds.

Whooping Cranes Diet, Habitat, and Size:

Whooping cranes have a varied diet that depends on the availability of food in their habitat. They mainly eat animal prey, such as crabs, fish, frogs, snakes, rodents, and small birds. They also eat some plant matter, such as berries, acorns, and tubers. They use their long bills to probe the mud, water, or vegetation for food.

Whooping cranes inhabit wetlands, marshes, prairies, and coastal areas. They require large, open, and undisturbed spaces for nesting, feeding, and roosting. They also need shallow water for protection from predators and extreme weather.

Whooping cranes are the tallest birds in North America, standing up to 5 feet tall. They are also the second-heaviest cranes in the world, weighing up to 16 pounds. They have a wingspan of 7.5 feet, which is the largest among cranes.

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Where to See Them in Michigan?

Whooping cranes are extremely rare and endangered, with only about 800 individuals left in the wild. They are not native to Michigan, but they have been reintroduced to the state as part of a conservation effort. The reintroduction project involves raising captive-bred whooping cranes and teaching them to migrate using ultralight aircraft. The goal is to establish a self-sustaining population of whooping cranes in the eastern United States.

The first whooping cranes arrived in Michigan in 2001, and since then, more than 100 cranes have been released in the state. They are part of the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP), which migrates between Wisconsin and Florida every year. Some of the cranes have also dispersed to other states, such as Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia.

The best place to see whooping cranes in Michigan is at the Seney National Wildlife Refuge in the Upper Peninsula. This is where most of the cranes spend the summer, nesting and raising their young. The refuge covers over 95,000 acres of wetlands, forests, and grasslands, and provides a safe and suitable habitat for the cranes. The refuge also offers guided tours, hiking trails, and wildlife viewing platforms for visitors.

The best time to see whooping cranes in Michigan is from May to October, when they are present at the refuge. They can be seen feeding, resting, and flying in the wetlands, often in pairs or small groups. They can also be heard making their loud, trumpet-like calls, which can carry for several miles.

Behavior and Lifecycle

Whooping cranes are monogamous and form lifelong pairs. They also form loose flocks during migration and wintering, but they are territorial and aggressive during the breeding season. They communicate with each other using a variety of vocalizations, gestures, and postures. They also perform courtship dances, which involve bowing, leaping, flapping, and calling.

Whooping cranes breed in the spring and summer, usually from April to July. They build large nests of vegetation on the ground or in shallow water. They lay one or two eggs, which are incubated by both parents for about 30 days. The chicks are precocial, meaning they can walk and feed themselves soon after hatching. They stay with their parents for about a year, until the next breeding season.

Whooping cranes can live up to 25 years in the wild, and even longer in captivity. They face threats from habitat loss, degradation, and disturbance, as well as predation, disease, and illegal shooting. They are also vulnerable to collisions with power lines, fences, and vehicles, as well as natural disasters such as hurricanes, droughts, and fires.

 Common Crane (Grus grus)

Common Crane

Common cranes are also known as Eurasian cranes, as they are native to Europe and Asia. They have gray plumage, black and white necks, red crowns, and long, pointed bills. They can stand up to 4 feet tall and have a wingspan of 7 feet. They are omnivorous and feed on seeds, roots, tubers, insects, worms, frogs, and small mammals.

Common Crane Best Viewing Locations:

Where to See Them in Michigan?

Common cranes are rare visitors to Michigan, as they are mainly found in the eastern and northern parts of Europe and Asia. However, there have been a few records of common cranes in Michigan, mostly in the Upper Peninsula. The first documented sighting of a common crane in Michigan was in 1979, at the Seney National Wildlife Refuge. Since then, there have been a few more sightings, mostly in the fall or winter, when the cranes are migrating. Some of the places where common cranes have been seen in Michigan are:

  • Seney National Wildlife Refuge: This is the same refuge where whooping cranes are reintroduced, and where sandhill cranes also nest. The refuge covers over 95,000 acres of wetlands, forests, and grasslands, and provides a diverse habitat for many birds and wildlife. The refuge also offers guided tours, hiking trails, and wildlife viewing platforms for visitors.
  • Whitefish Point Bird Observatory: This is a research and education center that monitors the migration of birds along Lake Superior. The observatory is located at the tip of the Upper Peninsula and is a hotspot for rare and vagrant birds. The observatory also features a museum, a gift shop, and a birding trail for visitors.
  • Tahquamenon Falls State Park: This is a 46,179-acre park that features the largest waterfall in Michigan, as well as other smaller waterfalls, rapids, and cascades. The park also offers a variety of recreational activities, such as hiking, camping, fishing, boating, and snowshoeing. The park is home to many birds and wildlife, including moose, bears, wolves, and otters.

Best Time to See:

The best time to see common cranes in Michigan is during the fall or winter, when they are migrating. However, they are very rare and unpredictable, so there is no guarantee that they will show up. The best way to find out if there are any common cranes in Michigan is to check the online birding reports, such as eBird or Michigan Birding Network. These websites provide the latest sightings and locations of birds in Michigan, as well as photos and comments from other birders.

Behavior and Lifecycle

Common cranes are social birds that form large flocks during migration and wintering, but they are territorial and solitary during the breeding season. They communicate with each other using loud, trumpeting calls, which can be heard from miles away. They also perform courtship dances, which involve bowing, jumping, flapping, and calling.

Common cranes breed in the spring and summer, usually from April to June. They build large nests of vegetation on the ground or in shallow water. They lay one or two eggs, which are incubated by both parents for about 30 days. The chicks are precocial, meaning they can walk and feed themselves soon after hatching. They stay with their parents for about 10 months, until the next breeding season.

Common cranes can live up to 30 years in the wild, and even longer in captivity. They face threats from habitat loss, degradation, and disturbance, as well as hunting, poaching, and collision with power lines. They are also vulnerable to diseases, such as avian influenza and botulism.

Do You Know About Mythical Birds and Creatures

Fun Facts:

  • Common cranes are the national bird of Finland, where they are called “kurki”. They are also revered in many cultures, such as China, Japan, and Korea, where they are symbols of longevity, happiness, and fidelity.
  • Common cranes can fly up to 250 miles per day during migration, reaching speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. They can also soar at altitudes of up to 16,000 feet, using thermals to conserve energy.
  • Common cranes have a special air sac system that allows them to produce their loud calls. The air sacs extend from their lungs to their throat and chest, and act as resonating chambers.
  • Common cranes are one of the few bird species that can sleep while standing on one leg. They do this to conserve body heat and balance.

 Demoiselle Crane (Anthropoides virgo)

Demoiselle Crane

Demoiselle cranes are the smallest and most elegant cranes in the world. They have bluish-gray plumage, black and white necks, black crests, and red eyes. They can stand up to 3 feet tall and have a wingspan of 5 feet. They are herbivorous and feed on seeds, grains, grasses, and flowers.

Demoiselle Crane Best Viewing Locations:

Where to See Them in Michigan?

Demoiselle cranes are very rare visitors to Michigan, as they are mainly found in the central and southern parts of Asia and Africa. However, there have been a few records of demoiselle cranes in Michigan, mostly in the Lower Peninsula. The first documented sighting of a demoiselle crane in Michigan was in 1984, at the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. Since then, there have been a few more sightings, mostly in the spring or summer, when the cranes are migrating. Some of the places where demoiselle cranes have been seen in Michigan are:

  • Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge: This is a 9,870-acre refuge that protects the floodplain of the Shiawassee River. The refuge features a variety of habitats, such as marshes, forests, grasslands, and agricultural fields. The refuge is a haven for many migratory and resident birds and wildlife, such as ducks, geese, swans, eagles, hawks, deer, and muskrats. The refuge also offers hiking trails, wildlife drives, and observation decks for visitors.
  • Pointe Mouillee State Game Area: This is a 4,040-acre game area that is located at the mouth of the Huron River, where it meets Lake Erie. The game area consists of wetlands, islands, dikes, and canals, and is managed for waterfowl and wildlife habitat. The game area is a hotspot for birding, as it attracts many rare and vagrant birds, especially during migration. The game area also features a museum, a boat launch, and a hunting area for visitors.
  • Nayanquing Point State Wildlife Area: This is a 1,444-acre wildlife area that is located along the Saginaw Bay of Lake Huron. The wildlife area consists of wetlands, marshes, and uplands, and is managed for waterfowl and wildlife habitat. The wildlife area is a prime location for birding, as it hosts many species of ducks, geese, swans, cranes, herons, egrets, and shorebirds. The wildlife area also offers hiking trails, fishing access, and hunting opportunities for visitors.

Best Time to See:

The best time to see demoiselle cranes in Michigan is during the spring or summer, when they are migrating. However, they are very rare and unpredictable, so there is no guarantee that they will show up. The best way to find out if there are any demoiselle cranes in Michigan is to check the online birding reports, such as eBird or Michigan Birding Network. These websites provide the latest sightings and locations of birds in Michigan, as well as photos and comments from other birders.

Behavior and Lifecycle

Demoiselle cranes are social birds that form large flocks during migration and wintering, but they are territorial and monogamous during the breeding season. They communicate with each other using soft, cooing calls, which are different from the loud calls of other cranes. They also perform courtship dances, which involve bowing, jumping, flapping, and calling.

Demoiselle cranes breed in the spring and summer, usually from May to July. They build small nests of vegetation on the ground or in shallow water. They lay one or two eggs, which are incubated by both parents for about 27 days. The chicks are precocial, meaning they can walk and feed themselves soon after hatching. They stay with their parents for about 3 months, until they are ready to fly.

Demoiselle cranes can live up to 15 years in the wild, and even longer in captivity. They face threats from habitat loss, degradation, and disturbance, as well as hunting, poaching, and predation. They are also vulnerable to collisions with power lines, fences, and vehicles, as well as natural disasters such as droughts and floods.

Fun Facts:

  • Demoiselle cranes are the smallest cranes in the world, standing only 3 feet tall. They are also the most elegant cranes, with their graceful necks, crests, and plumage. They are named after the French word for “damsel”, which means a young, noble woman.
  • Demoiselle cranes can fly up to 150 miles per day during migration, reaching speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. They can also soar at altitudes of up to 10,000 feet, using thermals to conserve energy.
  • Demoiselle cranes have a special air sac system that allows them to produce their soft calls. The air sacs extend from their lungs to their throat and chest, and act as resonating chambers.
  • Demoiselle cranes are one of the few bird species that can sleep while standing on one leg. They do this to conserve body heat and balance.

Cranes in Michigan: Threats and Conservation Efforts

Cranes are among the most endangered and threatened birds in the world, due to human activities and environmental changes. In Michigan, cranes face various challenges, such as habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, as well as collisions with power lines, fences, and vehicles. They are also hunted for sport and subsistence in some areas, and are vulnerable to disease, such as avian influenza and botulism.

However, there are also many efforts to protect and conserve cranes in Michigan, as well as in other parts of the world. Some of these efforts are:

  • The International Crane Foundation (ICF): This is a non-profit organization that works to conserve cranes and their habitats worldwide. The ICF conducts research, education, and advocacy programs, as well as captive breeding and reintroduction projects. The ICF is also involved in the whooping crane reintroduction project in Michigan, as well as in other states.
  • The Michigan Audubon Society: This is a non-profit organization that works to protect birds and their habitats in Michigan. The Michigan Audubon Society manages several sanctuaries, such as the Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary and the Phyllis Haehnle Memorial Audubon Sanctuary, which provide vital habitat for sandhill cranes and other birds. The Michigan Audubon Society also organizes the annual Sandhill Crane Festival, which celebrates and educates the public about cranes and their conservation.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS): This is a federal agency that works to conserve and manage fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats. The USFWS oversees several national wildlife refuges, such as the Seney National Wildlife Refuge and the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, which provide habitat and protection for cranes and other wildlife. The USFWS also enforces laws and regulations that protect cranes from illegal hunting, poaching, and trade.
  • The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR): This is a state agency that works to conserve and manage natural and cultural resources in Michigan. The MDNR manages several state parks, game areas, and wildlife areas, such as the Kensington Metropark, the Pointe Mouillee State Game Area, and the Nayanquing Point State Wildlife Area, which provide habitat and recreation for cranes and other wildlife. The MDNR also monitors and regulates the hunting and harvesting of cranes in Michigan.

These are some of the organizations and agencies that are working to protect and conserve cranes in Michigan. However, they also need the support and cooperation of the public, such as landowners, farmers, hunters, birders, and citizens, to ensure the survival and well-being of these magnificent birds. By learning more about cranes and their habitats, and by taking actions to reduce threats and enhance conservation, we can all help to preserve cranes in Michigan and beyond.

Mya Bambrick

I am a lifelong bird lover and nature enthusiast. I admire birds for their beauty, diversity, and intelligence. Birding is more than a hobby for me; it is a way of life. Therefore, I created this website to provide better and quality information about bird species. You know there are many bird species in the world right now. I started a path to introduce you to birds one by one.

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