Of the six subspecies of Sandhill Crane found in North America, three can be found in California, and two, the Greater Sandhill Crane and the Lesser Sandhill Crane, are commonly seen in the Central Valley.
Roughly 3,000 Lesser and Greater Sandhill Cranes settle in at the Cosumnes River Preserve every winter. Most of the cranes who have made the Preserve their winter home are Lessers, but the Delta (including the Preserve) is a critical wintering area for the less-abundant Greaters.
Observations tips from the Cosumnes River Preserve:
- When and Where: Prime Sandhill Crane viewing season at the Cosumnes River Preserve is between Oct. 15 and March 1. Dawn and dusk are the target times to observe the greatest numbers of cranes and the widest variety of intriguing behaviors.
- Be Still: Limit your movement while watching feeding birds. Should a “lookout” crane decide you’re a threat, the flock may well fly off, depleting their hard-won energy stores.
- Be Quiet: Speak quietly to avoid spooking cranes. Stay at least 400 yards from feeding cranes.
- Don’t Wear Out Your Welcome: Should you see any of these behaviors, it’s time to back off:
- Cranes nervously withdrawing into the center of a flock;
- Cranes slamming their bills into the ground then tossing their heads defiantly high;
- Cranes standing rigidly erect, looking straight ahead, necks stretched to the limit.