Wisconsin Sandhill crane sightings increase, true sign of spring

Sandhill Crane seen in Mequon by Ben Arnold

One of Wisconsin's largest birds is slowly returning to the state for spring! The sandhill crane is one of our first spring arrivals returning from wintering grounds in the south. They're also one of the last birds to leave before winter.

Odds are you'll hear them before you see them. Their loud trumpeting call can be easily heard while they're riding thermals hundreds of feet in the air. They'll often travel in large groups searching for leftover seed in farm fields. With a wingspan often over 6 feet and standing well over 3 feet, they can be quite the amazing sight. 

The Great Plains are a key migratory route for this recovered species that's one of the country's greatest success stories. Habitat loss and over-harvesting caused their numbers to plummet in the early 1900s. While habitat loss is still an issue, their numbers have been able to recover rapidly since the 1960s.

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Pair of Sandhill Cranes seen in Mequon by Ben Arnold

Now, in places such as the Platte River in Nebraska, they can be seen in the tens of thousands at one time. Even in Wisconsin, as they migrate south, it's not uncommon to see them in massive numbers.

These large birds mate for life and are famous for performing a dance as a mating ritual. If you're lucky you might see their young colts by mid-spring in wetland habitats. Their young are brown and incredibly small for how much larger they get by the end of the growing season.