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A record number of sandhill cranes flocked to the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge during fall migration this year, with more than 29,000 cranes spotted in a single day this month.

An astonishing 29,256 sandhill cranes were counted on the refuge the morning of Nov. 8, according to The Friends of the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge. The number smashed the previous record set in 2019, when 14,578 sandhill cranes were counted in a single day.

The 30,700-acre refuge in Zimmerman consists of oak savanna, prairie, forest, wetland and riverine habitats hosts thousands sandhill cranes each October and early November, as the conspicuous birds make a pitstop on their southern migration.

While it can't be known for certain what influenced this month's record-breaking flock, experts have noted some trends that likely contributed. 

For instance, the Eastern population of sandhill cranes in Minnesota has been rebounding steadily for decades, and the growing population has brought a gradual increase to the peak number of birds at Sherburne each year, according to the Friends organization.

(The settlement of Minnesota’s prairie region in the late 1800s nearly wiped out the sandhill crane population entirely.

In addition the refuge providing ideal habitat, the unusually warm fall weather might've also had an impact by varying the cranes' typical flight timelines.

As winter settles in and the birds flock to warmer weather and open water in the southeast, the numbers of sandhill cranes spotted at the refuge continues to decline as the birds disappear from Minnesota this month. 

According to the Friends organization, as of Wednesday, there were 16,894 sandhill cranes still hanging around. 

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