Sandhill Crane Viewing Sites
Crane Status Update: Cranes will be back later this winter! You’ll likely see and hear them flying overhead. You may see some along Desmond and Staten Island Rd. Do not go on levees. You may only view from public trails or from the road. Do not block flow of traffic.
Near the Visitor Center (13501 Franklin Blvd. Galt, CA)
By foot: The Preserve’s Wetlands Walk and adjoining boardwalk feature is ideal habitat for visiting cranes and waterfowl. Trails are open Sunrise to Sunset.
By car: There is excellent viewing west of Franklin Blvd., along Desmond Road, and beside Bruceville Road (just south of Twin Cities Rd.). The best chances to see the cranes is during dawn and dusk. You may pull off to the side of the road, but please stay off vegetation and do not walk onto the levee. This will scare the birds. Viewing is best done from your car.
Staten Island Road
Cranes and other migratory birds are attracted to flooded crop lands on Staten Island. Quite often thousands of birds can be seen flying over Staten Island during the fall, winter, and spring. Look for tundra swans, white-fronted geese, as well as both lesser and greater sandhill cranes.
Please be advised, the “NO PUBLIC ACCESS” sign is in place to make visitors aware that all levees, farm roads, and fields are private land. Visitors may only drive or walk on the main road, which is State Island Road. The paved road transitions to gravel approximately 2 miles in and public access terminates after about 4 miles. There is a sign indicating where the public road ends and vehicles may use the turnout by the water tower to reverse their course.
The corn harvest occurs in early fall (October) and visitors should avoid wildlife viewing on Staten Island during this time, for safety reasons.
Directions from the Visitor Center: Take Franklin Blvd. south and continue onto Thornton Road. Turn right onto Walnut Grove Road. After about 4 miles you will turn left onto Staten Island Road. You will see a large corn dryer on your right. Stop at the kiosk for information and continue down Staten Island road for viewing.
Woodbridge Ecological Reserve (AKA Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve)
The fields managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) regularly attract large numbers of sandhill cranes during the fall and winter. There are several turnouts along Woodbridge Road, allowing the public to safely park vehicles for bird viewing. CDFW offers fall, docent-led tours. Information can be found here: https://wildlife.ca.gov/Lands/Places-to-visit/Woodbridge-ER
Directions from Visitor Center: Take Franklin Blvd. south and continue onto Thornton Road. Turn right onto Walnut Grove Road and take I-5 south to the Peltier exit. Go east for a short distance and turn right onto Thornton Road. (Frontage Road). Drive on Thornton Road for approximately 2 miles, then turn right at Woodbridge Road. Travel approximately 2.5 miles to the first turnout.
Frequently Asked Questions
What time of year are Sandhill cranes at the Preserve?
Sandhill cranes usually begin to arrive around late September. The peak of their season at the Preserve is mid-December. They’ll begin to leave in early February and are generally gone by mid-March.
What time of day is best to see the cranes?
The cranes roost (sleep) in certain ponds at night and then wade and feed in other ponds during the day. Sunrise and sunset are great times to see the cranes flying out/in for the day. During the day, you’ll see many of them in various ponds around the Preserve. So, if you’d like to see them in flight, come during sunrise or sunset. If you’d like to see them hanging around the ponds, come during the day! Note, however, that parking lots are open from 9am-5pm and we suggest roadside viewing if you plan to view during sunrise and sunset.
What kind of Sandhill cranes are in California?
There are 6 subspecies of the Sandhill Crane found in North America. The 3 migratory populations, the Greater, Lesser, and Canadian are found in California.
Greater Sandhill Crane – Grus Canadensis Tabita
Lesser Sandhill Crane – Grus Canadensis Canadensis
Canadian Sandhill Crane – Grus Canadensis Rowani
Mississippi Sandhill Crane – Grus Canadensis Pulla
Florida Sandhill Crane – Grus Canadensis Pratensis
Cuban Sandhill Crane – Grus Canadensis Nesiotes
How do you identify Sandhill cranes?
Appearance: Sandhill Cranes are long-legged, long-necked, tall, upright, stately birds with sharp pointed beaks, heavy bodies, and long sturdy toes.
Height/Weight: Lesser: 3-4 feet / 7-8 lbs.
Greater: 4-5 fee / males ~12 lbs.; females ~9.5 lbs.; largest subspecies
Sexes: Plumage indistinguishable; male slightly larger. Some behaviors can distinguish them.
Subspecies: Difficult to tell apart in field. Lessers noticeably smaller. Plumage identical.
Plumage: When viewed from a distance, adults appear uniformly silver-gray, but careful observation will reveal some variations. The rear portion of the crown, as well as the nape, are a darker slaty gray. The gray back, wings and shoulders are noticeably darker than the pale gray neck and belly. The underwings are light gray, almost white. The throat and chin are very pale gray to white. Cheek color, which ranges from sooty gray to white, is an important social marker in crane society.
Head: (except for young) Red crown patch naked of feathers. Crown Patch: The distinctive bright red patch of bare skin stretches from the base of the bill, under the eyes, over the forehead and top of the head, and ends at mid-crown.
Bill: Black, straight, and long (Lesser – 4 in.; Greater – 5 in.)
Wings: Long and Wide Wingspan: Lesser – 6 ft.; Greater – 7ft.
Tail: Extremely short with 12 rectrices (feathers used for steering, balance, and maneuvering in flight)
Legs and Feet: black, sturdy, and heavily scaled; 4 sharp-clawed toes on each foot.
Flight: Neck extended forward, feet trail behind. Wingbeat: Slow downstroke, quick upstroke; often glides
Voice: Resonant and deep trumpetlike notes that can be heard for several miles.