Sandhill Crane Festival Flies Into Tennessee
What is tall, red-headed, just passing through and likes to dance and sing passionate duets? Nope. Not Reba McEntire. But here are a few more hints:
- It mates for life when around three or four years old, but may take several more years to breed successfully.
- Mates sing together. Generally the female starts the song but soon her partner points his head to the sky and the duet begins.
- And mates dance together too. Not only during breeding season but whenever they feel the urge to bow, leap toward the sky on long skinny legs and flap their wings.
- According to fossils recovered in Nebraska it is believed to be the oldest surviving bird species still on earth, present in North America for about ten million years.
- It is a seriously big bird, but only about half as tall as the eight-foot-two inch yellow guy on Sesame Street.
Give up? These are all descriptions of Sandhill Cranes.
If you’ve never seen one, you’re in for a real treat during the Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival on January 19 and 20 near Birchwood, about 15 miles northwest of Cleveland and 35 miles from downtown Chattanooga.
It is an outstanding opportunity for families and bird watchers, whether first-timers or veterans, to view Sandhill Cranes. Programs include speakers from the International Crane Foundation and the American Eagle Foundation, live raptors (birds of prey) and music. Vendors, food, special displays and wildlife exhibits will also be set up. Shuttles run to and from the parking and staging area at Birchwood School to the viewing platform both days.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) has managed Hiwassee Refuge for more than 60 years for waterfowl, but Sandhill Cranes love the combination of food and shallow water they find here. Since the 1990s, thousands of Sandhill Cranes have chosen to overwinter or rest and feed as they travel through, generally between November and February.
During the festival, guides with powerful spotting scopes are set up at the refuge where Bald Eagles and the rare endangered Whooping Crane may sometimes be seen as well.
The festival runs from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days with full schedules of activities and educational programs that are free to the public at the Birchwood School, the Hiwassee Refuge and the neighboring Cherokee Removal Memorial Park which overlooks the site where thousands of Cherokee and Creek Indians were camped from August to November 1838 as they were forcibly moved west along what is known today as the Trail of Tears.
The Cherokee Removal Memorial Park will host Native American performances and demonstrations of finger weaving and arrowhead making on both Saturday and Sunday.
Brian “Fox” Ellis, an internationally renowned storyteller and naturalist, will tell tales about Tennessee’s birds, teach “crane dancing” at the refuge and offer “Cherokee Tales” at the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park Museum.
Although the refuge is closed from November 15 to the end of February, the TWRA wildlife viewing platform is open daily.
So bundle up, grab your binoculars and brace yourself for cold weather. This is an outdoor adventure you won’t want to miss!