Viewing Sandhill Cranes

Nikki, Janet, Katrina (3 years old), and Felix (one year old) recently met in the Meewasin Trail parking lot just to the north of the entrance to the Riverside Country Club, and then walked along the Meewasin Trail southwards a short distance to an outlook on the riverbank. While waiting for the sunset show of sandhill cranes returning to their night-time roost, we enjoyed a picnic on a grassy bluff. We met many other people who were coming to see this unique display of one of the world’s largest animal migrations, involving about 80% of the total sandhill crane population – between 400,000 – 600,000 individuals (not all at one time, though!). We hope to inspire you to experience the delightful sounds and sights that will only be happening near Saskatoon for a few more weeks.

Have you heard unfamiliar calls or noticed flocks of large birds circling high above you? Geese by the thousands, mostly Canadas, snow, and Ross’s, but also others, migrate through Saskatchewan at this time of year. The prairies offer grain that has been dropped in the fields during harvest, and migrating birds can refuel for their long migration south. In addition to geese, the skies are also alive with flocks of tundra swans and sandhill cranes.

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Sandhill cranes are beautiful birds which can be found foraging grain fields during the day, and roosting on sandbars of the South Saskatchewan, North Saskatchewan, and Saskatchewan Rivers from sunset to sunrise. Thousands of sandhill cranes migrate through Saskatoon in September and October, some from as far north as the Queen Elizabeth Islands, in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, as they head to the southern United States. Sandhill cranes are unlikely to be mistaken for geese while flying, since their necks are stuck straight ahead, and their long legs are straight behind them. Also, sandhills take off, and circle higher and higher, as they climb towards the jet stream to fly more effortlessly on their long migratory journeys. Sandhills have a distinctive gobbling sound, unlike the ongoing chatter of geese.

Photo by Meghan Mickelson

On the ground, you will see that sandhills have mostly grey and brown bodies, but their feathers will often have a distinctive red stain from the mud where they dig out their summertime dinners. Sandhills have white faces and a red crown. When seen roosting on sandbars, they stand tall, and occasionally jump into the air and then, with wings spread, land gracefully again.

A wonderful place to see sandhill cranes roosting on the river for the night is Chief Whitecap Park just south of Saskatoon. Check out our past adventure here. 

Enjoy an evening picnic and the sights and sounds of an amazing migration event featuring a beautiful bird!


Nikki Moggey, Janet McVittie


Photo by Meghan Mickelson

The following map was created by Nature Conservancy of Canada, and notes where sandhills are often seen.

Photo Credit NCC

Places in and near Saskatoon to view Sandhill cranes

  • Chief Whitecap Park
  • Beaver Creek
  • Cranberry Flats
  • Diefenbaker Park

Check out the Saskatoon Nature Society’s A Guide to Nature Viewing Sites In and Around Saskatoon, available on loan from the Saskatoon Public Library and for purchase at Turning the Tide and McNally Robinson bookstores and directly from the Saskatoon Nature Society, purchase the book here.