Sandhill Cranes in Wine Country

Our longtime Wine Country Thanksgiving artist, Portland-based John Fisher, took his inspiration for this year’s cover art from a somewhat unexpected bird: the Sandhill Crane. 

“Distinctive, rare and elegant,” in Fisher’s words, the Sandhill Crane has several subspecies. Flocks of Canadian Sandhill Cranes migrate from the wilderness coasts of Southeast Alaska and British Columbia, where they breed, to points all over the Columbia River, and travel through the Willamette Valley on their way to California wintering areas. These tall, majestic birds have a brilliant red crown that stands out as starkly against their grey plumage as our Valley’s brilliant fall foliage sets off the season’s ever-present charcoal skies and soft rain. 

Impressive to behold in flight, Sandhill Cranes migrate in groups of thousands at a time, flying quite high in the skies and traveling up to 35 miles per hour; a total of approximately 50,000 Sandhill Cranes breed, migrate and winter in the Pacific Flyway. Those that winter in the Willamette Valley do so in relatively small flocks. Sauvie Island Wildlife Area, an island at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers just north of Portland, is a favorite autumn haunt for Canadian Sandhills. Sandhill Crane families remain together through their migration and winter for nine to ten months, and communicate to their flock with a distinctive, rattling “karoo” call.



To learn more, check out this Pacific Flyway map and this summary of ICF’s North American Sandhill Crane Program, which includes the work of crane expert Gary Ivey, Ph.D. To donate to his program, visit ICF’s donation page (under “designation” select “other” and type “Pacific Flyway Project”).