Other Birds - Sounds Wild
Crane Migration


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Crane migration

It's September in Interior Alaska and hundreds of lesser sandhill cranes are feeding at Creamers Field in Fairbanks. The cranes stand almost three feet tall and boast a six-foot wingspan. Geese are mixed in with the cranes, and all the birds are fueling up for their big fall migration south.

The cranes at Creamer's Field are part of the Mid-Continent Population of Sandhill cranes, a group defined by their summer nesting areas in the Arctic and their winter feeding areas in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, and northern Mexico. There are about half a million lesser sandhill cranes nest in the Mid-Continent Population, nesting from north-central Canada, across Alaska, and into Eastern Siberia. The major nesting areas in Alaska for these cranes are the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, the Tanana Valley and Yukon Flats.

In mid-September, about 200,000 Mid-continent cranes pass through the Tanana Valley near Delta Junction, with as many as 50,000 passing through per day during the peak. At least 50,000 cranes nesting in northeast Siberia cross the Bering Strait and travel this route as well. These cranes follow an inland route north of the Alaska Range through the Tanana Valley into the Yukon. They head east of the continental divide and then south through the Great Plains to their wintering areas in the Southwest. A study of marked cranes on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta confirmed their migration through the mid-continent region.

When taking off, flocks of cranes ascend in great circling columns, riding thermal currents of rising air, then form into "V"-formations. They fly very high and are generally daylight and fair-weather migrants, covering as many as 350 miles a day.