Comeback Cranes

Ridges symposium celebrates the recovery of the sandhill crane

The comeback of the sandhill crane is one of the great conservation success stories in American history. The bird was hunted so exhaustively during the late 1800s that it disappeared as a breeding bird from Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota, Ohio and Indiana by 1930, and it dwindled to just 25 nesting pairs in Wisconsin. 

But hunting bans, habitat protection and the Migratory Bird Act of 1918 helped the species to recover to a population of about 97,000 birds in Wisconsin and Michigan by 2018, including 20,000 nesting pairs. 

The Ridges Sanctuary will celebrate this comeback through a Sandhill Crane Symposium April 14 and 15 that includes citizen science, hiking, presentations and art.  

“Sandhill cranes have really made a comeback in population, and not a lot of people know a lot about them,” said Anna Foster, an environmental interpreter at The Ridges Sanctuary. “We were really excited about an art show we had coming to our gallery and thought it was a perfect opportunity to expand the idea and create an event to bring awareness to this story.”

Prof. Stanley Temple will be the symposium’s keynote speaker April 14, 6-7:30 pm, when he presents “What Have We Done to Deserve All These Cranes?” Temple will review the recovery of Midwestern sandhill cranes, describe their migratory behavior and discuss recent controversies, such as crane hunting. The virtual program is free, but registration is required to obtain access to the program’s Zoom link.

The Midwest Crane Count will take place April 15, 5:30-7:30 am, at sites throughout Door County. Contact Tony Kiszonas at [email protected] to get details about how to participate.

Registration is full for a crane nest-site hike with Jane Whitney April 15, but there will be another opportunity to take part in the symposium in the afternoon.

A reception with artist Thomas Jewell will be held at The Ridges’ Nature Center on April 15, 1-3 pm, for his exhibit, Door County Wildlife in Watercolor. It showcases original illustrations from Jewell’s children’s book, Tig of the Marsh and Wetland, along with newly completed works of wildlife seen at The Ridges Sanctuary. Jewell will give an artist talk at 1:30 pm, and afterward, Sam Hoffman, The Ridges’ land manager, will discuss past crane-count data and the importance of wetland protection in Door County.

The majestic cranes can often be spotted in farm fields, readily identifiable by their large, tan bodies and red heads. They grow to as much as five feet tall and 10-14 pounds, and the distinctive trumpeting sounds they make as they fly overhead are unmistakable. 

“They sound like you might imagine a dinosaur to sound,” Foster said. “And that sound has become one of the first signs of spring that we see in Door County. 

Find out more about events at The Ridges Sanctuary, 8166 Hwy 57 in Baileys Harbor, at

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