Imagine a cool crisp afternoon amidst the splendor of autumn colors. The stillness is interrupted by the eerie prehistoric cry of the cranes. As the Sandhill Cranes glide into view, you are thrilled by the majestic beauty of Michigan’s largest bird.
The Festival was started to raise awareness and appreciation of our natural heritage, and to support ongoing educational and conservation projects of the Michigan Audubon Society and Baker Sanctuary. CraneFest is a jointly-sponsored event between the Kiwanis Club of Battle Creek and Michigan Audubon; the festival site is the Kiwanis Youth Area, overlooking Big Marsh Lake.
A major attraction will be watching thousands of Sandhill Cranes return to the adjoining Baker Sanctuary. The “Fly-In” typically begins slowing around 4 PM with best viewing of large numbers of cranes between 5 PM and dusk. Admission is free and parking is $4.
Typically, between 3,000 and 6,000 cranes are present to greet more the average of 4,000 CraneFest attendees. Peak autumn usually coincides with CraneFest weekend, and everyone should consider making CraneFest part of their fall color tour.
Sandhill Cranes are believed to be the oldest living bird species, having existed for more than 9 million years in their present form. The cranes are Michigan’s largest bird measuring up to five feet tall with wings spanning an impressive six to seven feet. Thousands of these majestic birds return annually to roost at Big Marsh Lake in Baker Sanctuary before completing their autumn migration to Florida. With more than 9,400 Sandhill Cranes counted last October, Baker Sanctuary set a new single day state record for crane numbers. Saved from the brink of extinction, cranes have become a Michigan environmental success story.
The 900 acre Baker Sanctuary was Michigan Audubon Society’s first sanctuary and is still one of its largest. Centrally located, the Sanctuary is about six miles northwest of the intersection of I-94 and I-69. The Festival site is roughly an hour from Grand Rapids, 40 minutes from Lansing, Kalamazoo, and Jackson, and within a dozen miles of Battle Creek, Marshall, Charlotte, Bellevue and Olivet.