Whether you’re an avid birder or you’ve never seen a Sandhill Crane before, the Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival represents an extraordinary opportunity to witness a natural phenomenon that is truly unforgettable.
January 18-19, 2014
The Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival is a celebration of the thousands of Sandhill Cranes that migrate through or spend the winter at the confluence of the Hiwassee and Tennessee Rivers near Birchwood, TN.
While the cranes are present from November through February each year and viewing is always open to the public at the TN Wildlife Resources Hiwassee Refuge, the festival offers activities for the entire family. There will be speakers, films, and children’s activities centered on the cranes, Tennessee’s other wildlife, and the rich Native American history of the area.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has announced the Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival will be held January 18-19, 2014 . The Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival is a celebration of the thousands of Sandhill Cranes that migrate through or spend the winter on and around the Hiwassee Refuge in Birchwood, TN, as well as an opportunity to focus attention on the rich wildlife heritage of the state and the Native American history of the area.
Beginning in the early 1990s, the recovering population of eastern Sandhill Cranes began stopping at the Hiwassee Refuge near Birchwood, Tennessee on their way to and from their wintering grounds in Georgia and Florida. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has been managing this refuge for over 60 years for waterfowl, and the cranes found a perfect combination of feeding and shallow water roosting habitat. Now as many as 12,000 of these majestic birds spend the entire winter at the confluence of the Hiwassee and Tennessee Rivers. Hiwassee Refuge is now the best place in eastern North America to view Sandhill Cranes!
Already the first Sandhill Cranes have been spotted at the Hiwassee Refuge, and soon tens of thousands of cranes can be viewed at Hiwassee Refuge gazebo, which is always open to the public.
In conjunction with the wildlife viewing at the Hiwassee Refuge, the Birchwood Community Center, formerly, “Birchwood Elementary School” will be a major point of interest throughout the festival, offering merchandise, food, special displays, wildlife exhibits and a full schedule of entertainment including music, films and a raptor show presented by the American Eagle Foundation. Wildlife Cruises on the Blue Moon will also be offered. Other special activities and educational programming will be featured throughout the weekend at the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park.
During the festival, the Refuge will only be accessible by shuttle buses, which pick up at Birchwood Community Center. With the exception of a limited number of parking spaces for the physically disabled, there will be no automobiles permitted at the Refuge on January 18-19.
Why do We Celebrate?
It is only since the 1990s that tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes have been migrating through and wintering in Tennessee, and no other wildlife gathering in the state compares to seeing thousands of these birds, with a magnificent 6-foot wingspan, cruising overhead! A few Whooping Cranes usually accompany the Sandhills and Bald Eagles are regularly seen from the gazebo at the Hiwassee Refuge.
A rare Asian Hooded Crane, normally seen only in Southeast Asia, China and Japan, apparently “took a wrong turn” and joined Sandhill Cranes wintering at the Hiwassee Refuge during the winter of 2011-2012, bird experts say, drawing over 2,000 curious birdwatchers from 42 states and 7 countries along with it. He’s not been seen this season but you never know what will fly in to Hiwassee.
Our objective is to share the spectacle of these majestic birds and provide a potentially life-changing wildlife experience for visitors. We also want to build awareness for the need to provide adequate habitat and management for the thousands of Sandhill Cranes that winter and migrate through Tennessee, as well as for the Endangered Whooping Cranes that regularly accompany them.
—Melinda Welton, Festival Co-chair, 2012 & 2013