Many do not realize that each fall, one of our greatest wildlife spectacles happens right here in Indiana. It takes place at the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, located near the small town of Medaryville, about an hour’s drive northwest of Kokomo.
As the air turns brisk and leaves begin morphing into their brilliant hues of red, orange and yellow, thousands of sandhill cranes begin congregating on J-P’s shallow marsh areas on their journey south. These Hoosier wetlands are one of the largest resting places in the United States for these huge clattering birds. Cranes are birds of open grasslands, meadows and wetlands, and the sky literally swarms with them on their return to Hoosier soil.
“The birds are coming from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Canada,” said J-P property manager, Jim Bergens. “We have the perfect habitat and often times migrating cranes may spend several weeks here, which is why we build such huge numbers.”
“We never knew about it until we read it in one of your columns,” said Kokomo’s Mary Strand, who now makes several trips annually with her husband, Paul, to J-P.
“It’s such a short, beautiful drive and to see this take place in Indiana is amazing,” Paul added.
Standing nearly 4 feet tall on slender legs, these birds sport a red forehead, white cheeks and long dark pointed bill. Their wingspans push 7 feet, making them one of the largest bird species.
The first big push usually takes place in October. These early arrivals are harbingers of even higher numbers which usually peak by mid-November. During their fall migration, some 13,000 to 16,000 birds make Indiana their short term home. The highest population estimate of 32,000 cranes occurred during the 1991 migratory season. Currently, more than 3,000 birds gather at the fish and wildlife area daily, but that number is expected to grow.