Flocks of migrating cranes catch the eyes and ears of local residents
Flocks of sandhill cranes, sounding their unmistakably haunting call, have been soaring over Ozaukee County in significant numbers in recent days.
Hundreds of the large cranes were pushed over Port Washington on Friday, riding strong winds. Smaller flocks continued to be seen, and heard, in the area for days afterward.
Sandhills are powerful fliers with wingspans as great as seven feet. Their distinctive call, sometimes likened to “dry bones rattling in a wooden cup,” can be heard from great distances as they wheel in wind currents high overhead.
Ornithologist Noel Cutright said the soaring sandhills are one of the spectacles of fall, noting their recent appearance in such large numbers is a little later than usual thanks to the mild conditions the region has enjoyed.
“With the open weather we’ve had this fall, staging sandhills have remained in Wisconsin,” Cutright said.
“The birds that have moved the last several days have been taking advantage of the northwest winds to head to Florida. The next very large major staging area south of Wisconsin is the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in northwest Indiana.”
Cutright said the recent flocks of cranes were reluctant to cross Lake Michigan, so they struggled to stay over land as they headed south and either go across or around the Chicago area.
“There are some smaller staging areas in our region, like the fields immediately west of the Cedarburg Bog, but I doubt the birds we saw Friday and the past few days set down until nightfall,” he said.
“Unless we receive some snow that covers the landscape, I expect some cranes to be present in Wisconsin through the Christmas holiday period.”
Cutright warned fans of the majestic birds that a bill authorizing the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to establish a sandhill crane hunt is expected to be introduced in the Legislature next year.
A Town of Saukvile resident, Cutright is historian and past president of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, founder of the Riveredge Bird Club and Steering Committee member for the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.
He retired as a senior terrestrial ecologist with We Energies in Milwaukee after 28 years with the power company and now has emeritus scientist status.
Image Information: SANDHILL CRANES, like these spotted earlier in the year in Ozaukee County, have been filling the air in recent days during their fall migration south. Ozaukee Press file photo