Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)
By David Agro, Director
With early winter comes one of Long Point’s better spectacles, the arrival of the cranes. Just yesterday I was stopped along Front Road watching some 2000 cranes as they flew across the road. A policeman stopped to ask me if I was okay so I pointed out the cranes. Amazingly he hadn’t seen them and pulled off the road in front of me to watch them as well!
When I was younger, I would never have expected to see a crane at Long Point – in those days, cranes were so rare you would not expect to see them in southern Ontario. But a small population had survived in the upper peninsula of Michigan and slowly started to expand from there. By 1985, they had returned to Manitoulin and the Bruce Peninsula and a few migrant birds started showing up for us at Long Point. By the 1990s, after a hundred-year absence, they were breeding here again.
The bird we see here is a Sandhill Crane – a stately bird standing almost as tall as a person. There are historic records of cranes dating back to Champlain, but it is not known how common cranes were before the arrival of settlers. By the mid and late, observers in the US were commenting on the decline of the species and departure from former breeding areas (like Ohio, St. Clair Marsh).
Now it is almost possible to see them any day if you are outside, but the best spectacle is in winter. At this time, the cranes gather in large numbers (up to 7000) so they have become very easy to see. Because they are not hunted, our cranes are not wary and will let you watch them closely from the side of the road.
Winter crane watching is popular in many places – especially in China and Japan where the endangered Red-crowned Crane has been a revered symbol of luck, longevity, and fidelity for centuries. In North America, there are very popular festivals for watching Sandhill Cranes including the Platte River in Nebraska and the Yampa Valley in Colorado.
Fortunately for us here in the Long Point area, we can enjoy these cranes without crowds! If you plan to go, the best time is anytime from late November until freeze-up which usually occurs in late December. After that, the majority of the birds head south, but there seems to always be some present until there is a lot of snow. Bring a friend – it is such a wonderful spectacle that you don’t really need binoculars. And remember to open the window of your car – the voices of the cranes are also magical!