Videography and story By Patrick Redmond.
MEDARYVILLE — It’s a ritual dating back beyond memory. Each fall, thousands of sandhill cranes stop at the 8,000-acre Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area in western Indiana to rest, eat and get ready for the next leg of their winter migration south.
Indiana is a stop on the migratory flyway used by the eastern population of the great sandhill crane.
Twice a day, the birds put on a spectacular show. They head out each morning to feed in nearby farm fields. And then about 45 minutes before sunset, they come back en masse to the wildlife area to settle down for the night.
LaGrange County Parks Department naturalist Scott Beam took a group of people Nov. 9 from LaGrange on the two-hour drive to the Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area. It’s a trip Beam’s made before, and one that he said never fails to amaze.
“To watch birds coming from far, far away, all headed to that one spot, is just spellbinding to me,” Beam said. “They’ve been coming a long, long time.”
The large sandhill cranes can stand nearly 4 feet tall and have a wingspan that can reach 7 feet. They speak with an unmistakable throaty trill.
The cranes started arriving in Indiana in late September. The temporary population — sometimes as many as 10,000 birds a day — reaches its peak in late November.
By the mid-December, the cranes will be gone, headed to Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Florida, where they spend the winter.
But just as they’ve done for tens if not hundreds of thousands of years, the cranes will return in February, as they make their way north to their summer nesting grounds in Michigan, Wisconsin and southern Canada.