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Sandhill Crane Migration Is Off Schedule This Year

Last updated on Tuesday, February 7, 2012

(GREENE COUNTY) - Goose Pond property manager Brad Feaster counted 4,525 of them there on Tuesday. But were those birds southbound, northbound or both?

Maybe some of them decided to make Greene County their winter destination this year instead of flying another thousand miles or so to their normal winter vacation spots in southern Georgia and Florida.

According to Kenneth's Brock's "Birds of Indiana," fall sandhill crane migration starts in late October and peaks in November. Sandhills are not a certainty for local Christmas Bird Counts, but a few usually turn up each year.

This year, noisy flocks of sandhills were still heading south above my house in Bloomington the first week of January, and IN-bird-L, the statewide birding email list, hosted at listserv.indiana.edu, suggests birders found sandhills throughout Indiana just about every day in January.

Birders have reported sandhills at Goose Pond in early January and just about every day since Jan. 10. When those cranes move on, will they go farther south, or head back to their nesting territory?

Sandhill cranes have been known to overwinter in Indiana, but not in numbers like this year. A quick search of IN-bird-L, the statewide birding email list hosted at listserv.indiana.edu, shows 65 reports of sandhill cranes in January 2012.

Even during a typical year, sandhills don't stay south very long: The first northbound sandhills usually show up in Indiana the first week of February, with numbers peaking in March.

Friends of Goose Pond scheduled Marsh Madness, its annual celebration of crane migration, for March 2-4. No doubt, there will still be plenty of cranes in Greene County that weekend, and by that date, there's no doubt that cranes that have stopped to rest there will be heading north when they leave.

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