In the fall, sandhill cranes gather in their northern summer grounds and start southward. Many traditionally make a rest stop in northern Indiana, and then in early December as weather worsens, they start the trek on to their winter homes in Georgia and Florida.
Sometime they make a brief stop coming or going in the Ohio River bottoms In Peery, Spencer, Posey counties, or in Central Kentucky.
One of the first stops for the sandhills, which have a seven-foot wingspan, is in and around the Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Refuge in northwestern Indiana. They usually spend several weeks there gleaning the surrounding farm fields before heading on south. Anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 of the big birds frequent Jasper Pulaski.
Hundreds and maybe thousands of people also flock to JPL to view and listen to the birds. Viewing stands have been constructed over the years to watch the fall gathering.
For some reason, this year the cranes are more widespread and seem to be heading south earlier. The weather shouldn’t have been a factor. It has been relatively mild so far.
Do the birds know something is different? Highly unlikely. However, this year Kentucky will have its first sandhill crane hunting season. While the big birds are currently hunted in 13 others states, three Canadian provinces, and Mexico, Kentucky is the first state east of the Mississippi River to offer a season.
Sandhills have been hunted in modern times for more than 50 years, and their numbers continue to grow. The North American population is estimated at about 700,000 birds and the Eastern population, which includes Indiana and Kentucky, is believed to be somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 birds.
Indiana currently has no plans to offer a hunt for sandhills.
Kentucky’s peak number of sandhills is estimated to approach 20,000 birds, primarily in the Barren River Lake area.
The Kentucky hunting season for sandhill cranes will begin Dec. 17 and continue through Jan. 15, 2012, or until hunters take 400 cranes, whichever comes first. It is possible many of the birds normally passing through Kentucky will have completed their crossing by mid-December. Smart birds? Probably just some unusual circumstances pushing some birds to migrate earlier.
Kentucky hunters were required to apply for the hunt. Applications were to be made by Wednesday, Nov. 30.
Successful applicants must complete and pass an online identification exam before receiving a permit. Each permitted hunter may take up to two sandhill cranes. Hunters must use the department’s Telecheck system to register each crane on the day the bird is taken.
Hunters will also be required to monitor the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife website daily for notices of season closure and notifications of the presence of whooping cranes in Kentucky.
The Kentucky hunt is part of a three-year trial, and according to the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources has been crafted to have no impact on the Eastern population, have as small an impact on nature watching as possible, protect the experimental eastern population of whooping cranes, and provide hunting opportunities for those who want to hunt cranes.
The big birds reportedly are good eating, and no they don’t taste like chicken. Some say they taste more like steak. Numerous recipes can be found on the internet.
Sandhills adapt. They are very shy when they migrate. A few years ago a friend called me to see a large flock in the Ohio River bottoms near Grandview. I couldn’t get close enough to get a decent photo. However, where I stay in Florida during the coldest winter months, the cranes become a nuisance. You don’t dare feed them, or you can get rid of them.
Whether you want to hunt them, watch them, or photograph them, they are a beautiful bird to enjoy.
# # # #
NOTE FROM READER -- Funny that you had an article about Sandhill Cranes in today’s Perry County News. I heard and then saw my first Sandhill Cranes of the fall migrating south only yesterday. A few minutes later I heard some others and looked up saw my first Whooping Crane flying over the farm. It was with 15 Sandhill Cranes but larger and all white with jet black wing tips. The Whoopers used to fly east of here near Louisville but changed to Southern Illinois a few years ago to avoid the Smokeys. I have seen Whoopers in Texas but never before in Indiana. You mighttell your readers to make sure they know the difference. There would probably be a jail term for shooting a Whooper.