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Sandhill Cranes

The Cosumnes River and its watershed of wetlands and deltas offer habitat for thousands of birds, including the sandhill crane.

Each year, thousands of sandhill cranes return to the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta—many of them to land that has been preserved by the Conservancy.

Gazing across the fallow autumn fields of the Cosumnes River Preserve, you can see feathered families standing together: mother and father — mated for life — and their summer-born young. Their distinctive song, which has been compared to a distant French horn or an off-key bassoon, fills the air.

Visit the Preserve to See the Cranes

Jointly managed by The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and seven other partners, the Cosumnes River Preserve is a great place to view the cranes.

The Visitor Center is open weekends from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and during the week when staff are present, or by previous arrangement. In the evening, visitors gather across the road from the Visitor Center to watch the magnificent birds. Stop by the center for information on the best viewing spots. Visit the Cosumnes River Preserve web site for more information.

An Ancient Species

Standing a regal four feet tall and boasting wing spans of more than six feet, sandhill cranes can be appreciated by even the neophyte bird watcher. It doesn’t take any prior knowledge to immediately identify these tall, noisy birds gathered in awe-inspiring numbers.

No one knows exactly how long they’ve been wintering in the mild tule fog and Delta grasslands, but fossils of these birds date back 10 million years. They are one of the oldest living species of birds in the world.

And for Conservancy members, there’s the added pleasure of knowing your contributions help protect the habitat that sandhill cranes require after summering as far away as Siberia. The Cosumnes River Preserve showcases some of the finest Valley Oak forests and wetlands, but loss of habitat in their winter home is one of the biggest threats these birds face and is the reason they’re on California’s endangered species list.

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