Sandhill Crane

Sandhill crane taking off

Hiwassee Refuge Management and Wildlife Viewing - Celebration Of Cranes

Sandhill Crane Festival Event Information

Sandhill Crane Floc

The last Sandhill Crane Festival at the Hiwassee Refuge had an attendance of almost 4,500 visitors!  Don't miss the next one.  The events and agenda will be updated soon, check back often.

The events  for the 2024 Sandhill Crane Festival will be updated soon!

Deputy Director Brandon Wear addressed the audience.



Cherokee Removal Memorial-Visit this beautiful place! Not only are the people amazing, but this history should be known and shared.
This park was built as a memorial to the Cherokee Indians who were removed from their homeland and forced on their journey known as "The Trail of Tears". It has a beautiful garden and an overlook of the confluence of the Hiwassee and Tennessee Rivers. 

Birchwood Area Society Improvement Council (BASIC)- This group’s energy is boundless. You all know them for their smiles and good cooking every year at the Birchwood School.

The principal purposes of BASIC are to harness local initiative and energy to envision, design, and carry out programs that unite and strengthen the Birchwood community by employing available resources.

International Crane Foundation-The International Crane Foundation works worldwide to conserve cranes and the ecosystems, watersheds, and flyways on which they depend. You can still support these groups and cranes by learning about cranes and purchasing merchandise.

American Eagle Foundation- Everyone flocks to the Birchwood School for the AES presentation. We do too! Seeing amazing birds has been a gift over the years. The American Eagle Foundation is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization that has been protecting and preserving the American Bald Eagle and other birds of prey for more than 25 years.

Tennessee Valley Authority- TVA joins us each year to help educate on the waters and more in this gorgeous area of the state. The drawdown of the water provides habitat for many shorebirds and winter visitors such as the Sandhill Crane.

TVA was built for the people – to improve the quality of life in a seven-state region through the integrated management of the region’s resources.

The mission focuses on three key areas:

• Energy – To provide reliable, affordable electric power throughout the Tennessee Valley.

• Environment – To be a steward of the region’s natural resources.

• Economic Development – To serve as a catalyst for sustainable economic development.

Cleveland State Community College, Forestry Wildlife and Fisheries Professor Robert Brewer and Students

This group is invaluable, supporting countless TWRA events and volunteering time to help outdoorsmen and women in our region.

The Wildlife Society Student Chapter Cleveland State


Becky’s Bus Service LLC -Miss Becky has been serving the festival for 30 years. Her services and smile are invaluable.  

(423) 344-9608



2nd Nature has been described as front porch pickin’ meets the great outdoors. This group has supported the festival for years and we’ll miss hearing them live. 2nd Nature is an acoustic music group featuring Don King, Brant Miller, and Dave Woodward. You can hear their music or support them at:

Mt. LeConte Jug Band-The Mt. LeConte Jug Band hails from Spring City, Tennessee, on beautiful Watts Bar Lake and is comprised of five friends and neighbors living the dream playing their favorite Grassroots Americana on amplified acoustic string instruments.

Members include Jim Radle (rhythm guitar), Darrell Wallace (lead guitar), Sandy Morgan (bass guitar), Gary Morgan (mandolin), and Chris Hill (6 string banjo, percussion, harp).

They are veterans of the WDVX Blue Plate Special, Tennessee Valley Theatre with Bill Landry of Heartland Series fame, Museum of Appalachia Fall Homecoming, UTC Alumni Events, and various charity fundraisers; as well as BBQ's, Tailgates, Fairs, and Festivals.

Their antics on stage and their varied playlist have made them a popular East Tennessee hometown string band for the last ten years.

Tanner Hillis

Tanner has been a favorite on the stage since in first performance three years ago. His soulful, heartfelt singing touches all that hear it.



Find places to view Sandhill Cranes and more in your area:

How to Find the Best Binoculars

Find Events and Connect:

Join Project Feeder Watch!

The Tennessee Ornithological Society

The Tennessee Ornithological Society was founded in 1915 to promote the enjoyment, scientific study, and conservation of birds and their habitat.

Find birdwatching groups in your area:

Just for Kids

The Discover Birds Activity Book is available online…Download a single page or the whole book.  

Christmas Bird Count

Local Christmas Bird Count location and contacts can be found at

Other Outdoor Activities

Sandhill Crane Photo Gallery

Tennessee Sandhill Cranes 

Sandhill cranes are the most numerous and wide-ranging of all worldwide crane species with a population exceeding 1 million. There are six distinct migratory populations of sandhill cranes with breeding ranges extending across North America.

The sandhill cranes migrating or wintering in Tennessee make up a large proportion of the Eastern Population.  The Eastern Population of sandhill cranes migrates through and winters in portions of Tennessee and is considered the world’s second-largest sandhill crane population.  Tennessee has wintered an average of over 29,000 cranes over the last five years. 

Two areas serve as primary migration and wintering areas including the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge where thousands can be seen at one time.  Hop-in Refuge and surrounding lands near the Reelfoot Lake in west Tennessee attract several thousand sandhill cranes as well.   Smaller groups of cranes can be seen scattered across the Tennessee landscape too.

The Sandhill Crane breeds from western Alaska through the Canadian tundra to the northern United States, with scattered populations in the west, and non-migratory populations in Mississippi and Florida. 

The core breeding range lies in south-central Ontario, Michigan, and Wisconsin extending into adjacent Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Quebec.  In recent years this breeding range has expanded east to include several of the New England states, as well as south, including Indiana, Ohio, and Iowa.

It winters in the southern United States and northern Mexico.  During migration, sandhill cranes congregate in large numbers at staging areas of mid-latitude states. 

The Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways are the main migratory routes of the Eastern Population. These cranes winter primarily in Florida and Georgia though recently cranes are wintering further north in Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, and even southern Ontario.

This species was nearly decimated in the east by breeding habitat loss and overhunting in the 1800s and is now making a comeback.  Populations have increased over the last 60 years and we may now find over 20,000 cranes in the Hiwassee River area of southeastern Tennessee in winter with thousands seen from the Observation Platform.

There are an estimated minimum 89,000 Sandhill Cranes in the eastern population that passes through and winters in Tennessee.  The Sandhill Crane stands over 4 feet tall, with a wingspan stretching more than 6 feet, making it one of the largest birds found in Tennessee.

Description: This tall, long-necked, and long-legged bird is overall gray, with a large tuft of feathers at the rump.   The top of the head is red, which is actually red skin, and the cheek is a bright white.

Young birds are overall mottled gray and brown, with a non-contrasting feathered head. Males and females look alike with the male somewhat larger. All species of cranes fly with their necks outstretched.

Length: 4 to 5 feet tall
Wingspan: 5 to 6 feet
Weight: 10 to 14 lbs

Voice:  Aldo Leopold, an ecologist and the founder of the science of wildlife management, once wrote about the Sandhill Crane, "When we hear his call, we hear no mere bird.   We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution."   

The call of the Sandhill Crane will carry more than a mile, and can be heard across Tennessee as this majestic bird passes high overhead during migration, or when stopping in the state to spend the winter. 

The call is described as a trumpeting, bugling, or resonating, wooden rattle, which can carry long distances.  Mated pairs of cranes engage in "unison calling," where the cranes stand close together, calling in a synchronized and complex duet.   The call of young birds can be easily distinguished and resembles a musical purr.

Similar Species:

  • Whooping Cranes in their first year may be confused with Sandhill Cranes, but usually have some white below, not gray. Adult Whooping Cranes are overall white with black wingtips. Whooping Cranes are rare in Tennessee but are often found in the same fields as Sandhill Cranes.
  • Great Blue Herons are smaller, have no red on the head, and fly with their necks curled against the body instead of straight out. They are generally solitary in winter and usually forage close to water. Sandhill Cranes typically occur in flocks with a few to several thousand individuals in winter.

Habitat: Migrating and wintering Sandhill Cranes are found in wet grasslands, marshes, and grain fields.

Diet: Cranes are omnivorous, eating seeds, berries, cultivated grains, insects, and small mammals from the surface of the ground as well as probing into soil and mud.

Nesting and reproduction: The Sandhill Crane is a long-lived species (20 years or more) and does not successfully breed until 5 to 7 years old, and has one of the lowest reproductive rates of any bird in North America (only one nest in 3 produces a chick that survives to migrate in the fall). An interesting fact is that they mate for life.

Clutch Size: Ranges from 1 to 2 eggs.

Incubation: Males and females incubate the eggs for 29 to 32 days.

Fledging: On average, less than one chick is produced per nest. Young birds forage, roost, and migrate with their parents, usually staying within a few meters of them, for 9 to 10 months.

Status in Tennessee: The Sandhill Crane is an uncommon migrant and locally common winter resident in Tennessee, though numbers appear to be increasing. Fall migration lasts from late October to late December and spring migration is from mid-February through late March.

A few thousand cranes have also been wintering at Hop-In Refuge in Obion County, and over ten thousand on and around the Hiwassee Refuge in Meigs County.

Fun Facts:

  • Sandhill Cranes only started wintering in Tennessee in the 1990s.
  • The only historical observation of Sandhill Cranes during the winter in Tennessee is from an observation reported by John James Audubon in November 1820 of a large flock of cranes in the vicinity of the Shelby/Tipton County line.
  • There are 6 subspecies of Sandhill Cranes in North America. It is the Greater Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis tabida that migrates through and winters in Tennessee.
  • The oldest known Sandhill Crane was 36 years and 7 months old.
  • A Miocene crane fossil, thought to be about ten million years old, was found in Nebraska and is structurally identical to the modern Sandhill crane, making it the oldest known bird species still surviving!

Obsolete English Names: little brown crane, crane

Best places to see in Tennessee: In spring and fall Sandhill Cranes migrate through the state using a corridor that is roughly centered on Pickett and Clay Counties and runs south-southeastwards toward Bradley and Monroe Counties.

Wintering populations can be found at the Hiwassee Refuge in Meigs County, and Hop-in Refuge in Obion County.

Their habit of congregating near the Watchable Wildlife viewing platform at the Hiwassee Refuge from mid-October through February (sometimes into March) provides Tennesseans with one of the most spectacular wildlife watching opportunities in the state.Tennessee Sandhill Cranes