Minnesota fall migration: Sandhill cranes make a comeback

On special sunrise tours Oct. 19-20, see sandhill cranes greet the day and take flight with a ancient cacophony.

Hear sandhill cranes’ prehistoric sunrise chorus 

Sandhill cranes lift off at sunrise.

Text & Photos by Lisa Meyers McClintick

“As dawn lightens the landscape at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, a group of sandhill cranes lifts up as easily as dandelion seeds blown into the breeze. Every few minutes, a new flock rises, bit by bit, as the pinkish sun appears, ray by ray. The sandhill cranes’ morning serenade continues, gaining strength as they shake off sleep and more join in. It echoes across the water and fills the fall skies around us.

‘What felt like the middle of nowhere in pre-dawn darkness now feels like center stage. Golden streaks of sunshine squiggle across the sky and illuminate cranes gracefully arcing across cotton-candy clouds. Their song hits a crescendo, like Mother Nature’s operatic climax for a heavenly Minnesota morning.”
A coyote seeks food at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge.
Sandhill cranes have made a huge comeback in Minnesota and elsewhere. Fall is one of the best times to witness it with groups gathering for migration and staging at places such as Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge. The government shutdown has ended just in time for the public to still jump in and sign up for the special sunrise crane tours this weekend. They can take about 50 each day. If you like this video shot on Sept. 30, imagine three times as many sandhill cranes. They’ve been gathering all month to feast in fields and prepare for fall migration.
Read my full essay on sandhill cranes’ comeback in the Star Tribune’s Outdoors Weekend section.