Thousands of sandhill cranes gather at sunset.

Crane Congregations Return

A Wildlife Spectacle to Behold

Summer is in full swing and if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a baby sandhill crane taking flight. During the summer months, the cranes are distributed across much of the Upper Midwest foraging and breeding in their own territories. While crane sightings are not rare, they are sightings of two to four birds at a time. Imagine seeing them congregated by the thousands!

This fall, the Aldo Leopold Foundation is expanding and enhancing Crane Congregations – your opportunity to learn about these majestic birds and see them up close in Leopold Country. For weeks before they take flight to migrate south, sandhill cranes gather in mass, by the thousands, on the islands and sandbars of the Wisconsin River. They roost together at night then fly out each morning in search of food, repeating the routine until winter sets in or their food source is exhausted. The Aldo Leopold Shack and Farm has become the region’s premier vantage point to experience the incredible sights and sounds of this wildlife spectacle.

It’s an assault on the senses, in a way, in a nice way, because the sounds of the cranes and obviously the sight of the birds themselves is really special.  — Rick Chamberlin, Crane Congregations participant

Group tours are more than just a viewing opportunity though. You’ll have a chance to learn from renowned bird expert Dr. Stanley Temple about sandhill crane biology and learn how their history in Wisconsin has close ties to Aldo Leopold; mingle with guests and make new friends; then see the landscape both the birds and Aldo love so dearly. Educational, social, experiential – a trifecta to satisfy your senses and mind!

We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love or otherwise have faith in. — Aldo Leopold, “The Land Ethic,” A Sand County Almanac

Tour Offerings

Three different crane viewing options and a number of dates will be offered. Browse the program overviews below or view them in detail on The Cranes page. These programs help support the conservation work of the Aldo Leopold Foundation on the Leopold-Pine Island Important Bird Area as well as efforts to cultivate a land ethic society-wide.

Public Tours ($75/person)

Gather with fellow guests for a wine and cheese welcome reception, then learn about crane biology, behavior, and local history from Dr. Stanley Temple. After the presentation, spend an hour as the sun sets observing the cranes in their natural habitat. Your bird expert, Dr. Temple, will be your guide throughout, offering interpretation of the spectacle and the landscape as well as serving as a resource for questions. Total program time is approximately 3 hours. Seven dates available; view the calendar.

Included with your tour purchase is a complimentary membership to the Aldo Leopold Foundation.

Optional: Join us for a complimentary tour of the Leopold Shack and Farm before Crane Congregations for the full experience! These tours, outside of our normal visitation season, will be offered 1.5 hours prior to the start of each public crane tour.

Weeknight Tours ($35/person)

We welcome our local community to come spend an evening with our education and land stewardship fellows to view and learn about the cranes in an informal, family-friendly setting. This slightly condensed tour lasts about one and a half hours. Participants are welcome to bring their own snacks and water bottle.

Photography Blinds ($150/person)

Capture the crane spectacle in images or video from the optimal, up-close locations inaccessible to large groups. Individual, portable blinds are available for professional or amateur photographers. The Aldo Leopold staff will provide insights on recent crane activity and place blinds in advance. Reservations based on availability, November 3 – December 10.

COMING NEXT YEAR! Private Tours ($250/person)

We are excited to announce that next year we will offer private, overnight tours for a truly immersive experience! These private tours for individuals or couples will feature, in addition to the crane presentation by a bird expert, two crane viewing opportunities, overnight accommodations in the newly constructed Future Leaders Center, and two meals. The smaller group size (six or fewer people per tour) creates an opportunity for a more intimate crane viewing experience. Witness cranes fly-in and roost for the evening from the eastern side of the river, then wake early to observe the beautiful chaos as they fly out in the morning. End your experience with breakfast at Aldo Leopold’s Shack.

Interested? Use the form at the bottom to sign up for crane program updates.

Not to Be Missed Experience Awaits

Registration for all programs will open to the public on Friday, August 4. Last year’s tours sold out, so mark your calendar to register early. For Public and Weeknight Tours browse the calendar for the desired date. To reserve a photography blind, a request form will be posted on The Cranes page when registration opens. Want to be notified of crane related program this year and in the future? Click below to fill out the form.


Feature photo, top, by Sunil Gopalan.