Best time to travel to Tennessee

Sandhill Crane Migration in Tennessee

Thousands of sandhill cranes spend winter in Tennessee

Best time: mid-October–February | best: January

Sandhill Crane Migration

The sandhill crane is one of the largest birds found in Tennessee. Its length is about 4 ft (1.2 m), and its wingspan reaches 7 ft (2m). Sandhills are also known for their distinct calls that can be heard for miles around. Tennessee birdwatchers witness the return of sandhill cranes every fall when thousands of migrating birds from the eastern population pass the state on their way to Gulf Coast and Florida. Their route lies through Pickett, Clay, Bradley, and Monroe Counties. In late February, they can also be spotted on their way back to their breeding sites in the Midwest and Canadian tundra. About 20,000 sandhill cranes spend the whole winter in Tennessee, staying in the wetlands surrounding Hiwassee and Tennessee rivers.

At least ten thousand sandhill cranes winter around the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Meigs County. A few thousands more can be spotted in west Tennessee, at Hop-In Wildlife Refuge as well as nearby Reelfoot Lake in Obion County.

The largest number of cranes has been spotted near the Watchable Wildlife viewing platform at the Hiwassee Refuge throughout January. This is also the time for the Tennessee Sandhill Cranes Festival. The event combines bird-watching tours and educational programs with an art fair. Hiwassee Refuge provides shallow waters and roosting areas for birds that feed on seeds, grains, insects, and even small mammals. In addition to the massive sandhill crane population, birders can see white pelicans and even endangered whooping cranes.

Practical info

When is the best time to visit Tennessee to see sandhill cranes?

Sandhill cranes can be observed from mid-October to February every year in Tennessee. The ideal time to spot these birds is during January when most of them gather at Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, and a festival is held in their honor. Thousands of sandhills spend the winter in Tennessee; their migration route includes several counties in the state. Show more

Where can I see sandhill cranes in Tennessee during their migration?

The Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Meigs County is the ultimate spot to catch sight of migrating sandhill cranes in Tennessee. Over 10,000 birds can be seen there, while thousands more are found at other locations such as Reelfoot Lake and Hop-In Refuge in west Tennessee. The refuge provides a favorable environment, including waters and resting areas, that the birds find attractive for feeding and resting. Show more

What is the size of a sandhill crane?

Tennessee's sandhill crane is one of the largest bird species, measuring 4 ft (1.2 m) in length with a massive wingspan of up to 7 ft (2m). These birds have distinct calls that can be heard from far away. During the fall migration, birdwatchers gather to see thousands of migrating birds from the eastern population on their route to Florida and the Gulf Coast. Show more

What other bird species can be seen at Hiwassee Refuge in addition to sandhill cranes?

Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Tennessee is home to an abundance of bird species, including endangered whooping cranes and white pelicans in addition to sandhill cranes. The refuge offers plenty of food and shelter spaces for numerous bird species such as raptors, ducks, and songbirds. These areas are maintained to guarantee that different birds have access to the resources they need to thrive and survive during their stay. Show more

Is there an annual festival that celebrates the sandhill crane migration in Tennessee?

Tennessee's Sandhill Crane Festival is an annual event held to celebrate the beauty and diversity of sandhill cranes and their migration through the state. The festival features bird-watching tours, educational programs, and an art fair that showcases the works of local artists. Every year, people converge on Tennessee from different parts of the world to enjoy these birds' beauty and their environment in rivers and wetlands. Show more

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Last updated: by Olga Valchyshen