Counting Cranes

Sandhill cranes in northwest Pennsylvania (photo by Steve Gosser)

Pennsylvania counts!  We have so many sandhill cranes that we’re now part of US Fish and Wildlife’s eastern Fall Crane Survey.

Sandhill cranes are much more common out west but the eastern population has grown to 60,000 birds.  They used to be rare in Pennsylvania where our first crane was noted in the late 1980’s, first breeding was recorded in 1993 in Lawrence County, and the first photograph of a nest was in 2009.  Sandhills have now been spotted in more 30 Pennsylvania counties — nearly half the state!

This is your opportunity to make history.  Put your name, location, count, date and time on record.  It’s significant if you visit a likely crane place and don’t find any.  Yes, even ZERO counts.

Here are links and tips on what, where, when and how from the PABIRDS announcement by Lisa Williams, PGC:

  • What to count.  Tips on what a crane looks like and how to recognize a juvenile crane.  (Is it flying? Cranes keep their necks and legs stretched out when they fly.)
  • Where to count: Look for cranes in wetlands and nearby agricultural settings. Cranes often forage in shallows and mud flats along lakes, ponds, and swamps or in nearby agricultural fields and pastures, but they can be found in a variety of odd sites during migration.   (Pittsburgh birders: visit Lawrence, Mercer, Crawford counties)
  • When:  Sunday, October 27 through Saturday, November 2.  Ideal dates are October 29-31.  Counts are best conducted just after sunrise or just before sunset when birds are concentrated in their roost sites. (It’s easier to find cranes at that time of day, anyway.)
  • How to count and how to submit your data.

After you practice on cranes, you’re ready to count crows.  😉

(photo by Steve Gosser)


3 thoughts on “Counting Cranes

  1. This is such exciting news; the greatest moment of my birding life came in 2009 when I stumbled upon a pair of sandhills in Crawford County. It was April, and they were actually performing courtship dances with each other. At that time, I didn’t even know it was a possibility to see them in PA. Nothing has quite compared to that breathtaking moment when I realized what I was seeing ever since!

  2. I went to the Bonani Rd area in Lawrence County to count cranes today. Found 2 adults with 2 juvies and 2 more adults in another field. While I was watching the family group of four, a loud small airplane flew over. The parents stood alert but looking straight ahead while the “kids” looked up at the plane and followed it with their beaks in the air. 🙂

    Subject: Sandhill Crane Survey – Summary
    Date: Fri Nov 8 2013 11:10 am
    From: Lisa Williams, PA Game Commission

    With the help of PA Birders, the first-ever PA Fall Sandhill Crane Survey occurred between October 27 and November 2. In all, twenty-seven observers (PGC personnel and citizen observers) spent 62.75 hours surveying known staging areas, locations with recent crane sightings, and areas of suitable crane habitat. Survey effort occurred in 22 counties, and cranes were observed in 5 counties (Bradford, Sullivan, Lawrence, Crawford, and Lackawanna).

    A total of 98 cranes were sighted: 79 adults; 11 juveniles; 8 of unknown age. Observations of known age birds reflect an age ratio of 0.14 juveniles per adult. Total survey effort (including surveys with 0 cranes as well as replicate observations) resulted in an overall observation rate of 2.04 cranes per hour.

    The 2013 survey year has provided important baseline information for tracking changes in staging populations of sandhill cranes over time, and we appreciate the effort of everyone involved!

    Thank You,
    Lisa Williams
    Bureau of Wildlife Management
    PA Game Commission

    (This update came from PABIRDS at

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