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The Numbers Are In: Virtual Crane Viewing a Major Success

Late fall at the Aldo Leopold Foundation is a marvelous time to stand outside, watching and listening as thousands of sandhill cranes fly overhead to their nightly roost on the Wisconsin River. In a typical year, we enjoy welcoming people to Leopold Country to witness this amazing spectacle in person. 2020, however, was anything but typical. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to find a new way to bring the cranes to people in their homes. Our solution? Virtual Crane Viewing!

In case you missed the live event, or you just want to watch it again, a recording of the program is available below. Simply enter your email address and name to view the program.  

How Virtual Crane Viewing Came to Be

After many weeks of planning, we were ready to hit the ground running on our first-ever virtual event. One of the initial tasks was to hire a professional video production crew to film the cranes flying in and out of their nightly roost along the Wisconsin River. Thanks to the high-quality expertise of Pop Pop Digital, we were able to bring state-of-the-art video footage of the cranes to viewers’ screens across the world. In addition, our land stewardship crew provided a behind-the-scenes look at how they continually work to improve habitat for cranes and a variety of other bird species on the Leopold-Pine Island Important Bird Area.

Pop Pop Digital films a conversation between members of the land stewardship crew.

With the video footage in editing, it was time to move onto the live portion of the event. Having never hosted a virtual event before, there were a number of hiccups we ran into along the way. However, by the night of the first event, we were confident in our technology setup and ready to tackle any problems that might arise. Each night featured a live presentation and Q&A with Aldo Leopold Foundation Senior Fellow and world-renowned ornithologist, Dr. Stan Temple. Stan’s expertise on sandhill cranes was evident as he answered question after question on these majestic birds. Attendees raved about the program afterward with comments flooding in from around the country.

“On a chilly winter night when travel was out of reach, we were transported to Wisconsin to learn more about the cranes and the work of the Aldo Leopold Foundation. The video was beautiful, the host knowledgeable and engaging and best of all – we were cozy under our blankets by the fire!”

“We loved learning about cranes with our little ones. We want them and their generation to carry this knowledge forward to keep the crane population strong for the next 100 years!”

In the initial planning stages, we hoped our program might reach a few hundred people. However, as registrations continued to increase daily, the decision was made to add a fourth program date, which filled up within days. At the conclusion of the four programs, a total of 3,000 households had registered from 26 countries and 49 states—a feat we had never imagined possible! Of those 3,000 registrants, 1,716 households attended the event with people from 8 countries and 49 states.

The total number of Virtual Crane Viewing registrants from 49 states and Washington D.C. Dark green states had the lowest number of registrants, while dark yellow states had the highest number of registrants.

The total number of Virtual Crane Viewing registrants from 26 countries and 6 continents. The United States had the highest number of registrants followed by Canada, the United Kingdom, and Turkey.

Although 2020 presented a plethora of challenges and setbacks, it also allowed us to come up with new ways to bring informative and interactive live events to a virtual audience. Through these virtual programs, we were able to share the cranes’ annual pre-migration congregation with thousands of people, rather than the few hundred we welcome on-site for crane viewing in a typical year. And while many people who attended the program may never have the chance to visit the foundation in person, thanks to virtual programming, there are now hundreds of people around the world who have a greater appreciation for sandhill cranes and the work that the Aldo Leopold Foundation does to help build an ethic of care. All in all, Virtual Crane Viewing was a major success!

“This program is a wonderful reminder, even during a global pandemic, that our shared conservation legacy extends far beyond the work of any one individual or organization. We experience the wonder of the natural world together despite many obstacles.”         – Virtual Crane Viewing Attendee

We can’t wait to welcome everyone back to Leopold Country soon. In the meantime, be on the lookout for more virtual events coming your way!

This Virtual Crane Viewing program is supported in part by a grant from the Sauk County Extension, Arts, & Culture Committee and Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.


Interested in learning more about the history and behavior of sandhill cranes? Check out the resources below to learn more about the cranes and their miraculous return to Wisconsin.

What in the World Did We Do to Deserve All These Cranes?
What Do You Call a Group of 10,000 Cranes?
Sandhill Crane Redux: Part 1
Sandhill Crane Redux: Part 2
Sandhill Crane Redux: Part 3