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Sandhill Cranes prepare for migration at Navarino Wildlife Area

Sandhill Cranes in farm field in Shawano County, October 19, 2017 (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

TOWN OF NAVARINO (WLUK) -- As we approach the end of the year, many birds are getting ready to fly south for the winter.

Sandhill Cranes stand about four-feet tall, and thousands of the big birds are staging in areas like the Navarino Wildlife Area in Shawano County, stocking up Thursday morning for their long journey south.

"They're a nice slate gray color, with a nice red cap. They're going to be in numbers up to 10-15,000 on the wildlife area for the month of October and into early November," said Tim Ewing, Navarino Nature Center Director.

The stork-like birds comb the fields by day, looking for insects and spent grain from the harvest.

"They like it nice and wide open. That way they can see if any predators are coming around. And then overnight, they roost in Pike's Peak Flowage on the wetlands where the predators can't get them," said Ewing.

Ewing says the birds remain in the Great Lakes region during the spring and summer. That's when some of them can cause damage to crops.

"When it's planting time, yeah. If you get a bunch of Sandhill Cranes in a farm field, they can go right down the rows and pick out the young seedlings as they're coming up," said Ewing.

The birds are protected, and there is no Sandhill hunting in Wisconsin. The state legislature would have to create any season. For now, the birds and their young will continue to feed in the fields.

"They grow relatively fast, they have a very good appetite, and grow up rather quickly. Kind of a comparison to our teenagers," said Ewing.

Ewing says the birds will fly to Indiana, Georgia, and eventually Florida.

"Because there's no hanging out in Wisconsin through our winters," he said.

The cranes typically migrate around the third week in November.

However, if weather conditions change, the birds may leave earlier.

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