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Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center


Observations of Sandhill Cranes’ (Grus Canadensis) Flight Behavior in Heavy Fog

Kirsch, E.M., Wellik, M.J., Suarez, M., Diehl, R.H.,m Lutes, J., Woyczik, W., Krapfl, J., and Sojda, R., 2015, Observations of Sandhill Cranes’ (Grus Canadensis) Flight Behavior in Heavy Fog., The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, v 127, n 2, p 281-288. doi: 10.1676/wils-127-02-281-288.1


 The behaviors of birds flying in low visibility conditions remain poorly understood. We had the opportunity to monitor Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) flying in heavy fog with very low visibility during a comprehensive landscape use study of refuging cranes in the Horicon Marsh in southeastern Wisconsin. As part of the study, we recorded flight patterns of cranes with a portable marine radar at various locations and times of day, and visually counted cranes as they departed the roost in the morning. We compared flight patterns during a fog event with those recorded during clear conditions. In good visibility, cranes usually departed the night roost shortly after sunrise and flew in relatively straight paths toward foraging areas. In fog, cranes departed the roost later in the day, did not venture far from the roost, engaged in significantly more circling flight, and returned to the roost site rather than proceeding to foraging areas. We also noted that compared to mornings with good visibility, cranes flying in fog called more frequently than usual. The only time in this 2-year study that observers heard young of the year calling was during the fog event. The observed behavior of cranes circling and lingering in an area while flying in poor visibility conditions suggests that such situations may increase chances of colliding with natural or anthropogenic obstacles in the vicinity.

Grus Canadensis, Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, low visibility, marine radar

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