Best time to travel to California

Sandhill Crane Migration in California

Central Valley hosts thousands of wintering sandhill cranes

Best time: late September–February

Sandhill Crane Migration
Sandhill Crane Migration
Sandhill Crane Migration
Sandhill cranes in Lodi, California

Sandhill cranes are among the largest birds in North America with a wingspan reaching 7 ft (2 m). They are also among the oldest birds on our planet and are famous for their amazing courtship "dances" and distinct calls. Thousands of sandhill cranes arrive in California's Central Valley each September after breeding in Alaska, Canada, and the Pacific Northwest. In addition to that, a smaller group of cranes breed and nest in northeastern California. Sandhill cranes are currently considered endangered species in California, as their numbers are declining due to habitat loss.

In Central Valley preserves, sandhill cranes can winter safely and be close to grains planted specifically to sustain them through the winter. One of the best locations in the state to observe sandhill cranes is the Cosumnes River Preserve which offers over 10 mi (16 km) of trails located around the main visitor center and at Rancho Seco Recreational Area. Carizzo Plain Preserve, which encompasses 162,000 acres between the Central Valley and the Pacific Coast, also hosts lesser sandhill cranes near Soda Lake.

The Woodbridge Ecological Reserve (Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve) boasts a large wetland area where sandhill cranes spend the winter. The reserve offers crane-watching tours from October through February to observe and photograph the wintering waterfowl as well as hear a presentation on cranes and their habitat. Every November, the sandhills season is celebrated with the Lodi Sandhill Crane Festival!

Practical info

When can sandhill cranes be observed in California and where?

Witness the wintering sandhill cranes in California from late September through February. You could visit Central Valley preserves such as Cosumnes River Preserve, Carizzo Plain Preserve, and Woodbridge Ecological Reserve. These birds arrive from their breeding grounds in Alaska, Canada, and Pacific Northwest, attracted by grains specifically planted to sustain them through the winter. Show more

Which are the best locations to observe sandhill cranes in California?

Visit Cosumnes River Preserve, Carizzo Plain Preserve, and Woodbridge Ecological Reserve to see sandhill cranes in California. Cosumnes River Preserve has 10 miles of trails around the main visitor center and Rancho Seco Recreational Area. Soda Lake in Carizzo Plain Preserve hosts sandhill cranes periodically, while Woodbridge Reserve offers crane-watching tours from October through February. Show more

What is the current status of sandhill cranes in California and why?

Sandhill cranes in California are currently regarded as endangered due to habitat loss, exposure to pesticides, and poaching. These factors have led to a decline in their numbers over the years. The sandhill crane’s migration in California is one of the many efforts to protect and create awareness of these species’ plight and raise their chances of survival. Show more

Can visitors opt for guided tours and what experience can they expect at Woodbridge Ecological Reserve?

Take a crane-watching tour at Woodbridge Ecological Reserve from October through February and have a chance to observe and photograph the sandhill cranes up close. Besides the main attraction, visitors can listen to a presentation on cranes and their habitats as well as learn from a knowledgeable guide. The Woodbridge Ecological Reserve provides an excellent experience for crane enthusiasts. Show more

Aside from sandhill cranes, which other birds and wildlife can visitors expect to see in Central Valley during winter?

Witness other wintering birds such as the Snow Goose, Tundra Swan, Northern Shoveler, and Greater White-fronted Goose at the Central Valley reserves during winter. Alongside these birds, visitors might get a glimpse of river otters, bobcats, coyotes, and beavers. The reserves in Central Valley offer an excellent opportunity to view a wide range of wildlife. Show more

External Resources

Ask a question

Find hotels and airbnbs near Sandhill Crane Migration (Map)

Last updated: