There have been some magnificent sights at the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge this past week, as a record number of sandhill cranes gathered for their migration south.
The St. Cloud Times reports that on Friday, Oct. 30, a record 11,331 cranes were counted by wildlife officials at the refuge near St. Cloud as they set off on their annual pilgrimage to warmer climes, providing a stunning vista for birdwatchers as they took flight.
The newspaper notes that migration numbers at Sherburne have grown significantly since 87 birds were recorded there in 1992, and with last year's peak count at 8,797, the number seen this year represents a big step up.
KARE 11 reports that tens of thousands of cranes have this week been using the wildlife refuge as a staging area for their fall migration, and the growth in numbers is being put down to improved conditions for the birds.
"What was so limiting at one point was the quality of our wetland habitats. So us continuing to focus on restoring and maintaining areas, not only for breeding, but areas like this for staging is pretty crucial to their survival," Tony Hewitt, wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, told the TV station.
According to its website, the refuge is a breeding ground for more than 40 pairs of sandhill cranes each year, having started with just two almost 40 years ago.
The Minnesota DNR says that the sandhill is among the largest bird species in Minnesota, standing five feet tall with a wingspan of almost seven feet.
WCCO reports they generally migrate to sunnier climes for the winter in Texas or Florida.
To prepare for their long journey, they have been carbo-loading by eating leftover corn and soybeans from farm fields during the fall, after surviving on a diet of insects and small aquatic mammals during the spring and summer.
You can find out more about the birds here.