Cranes Come Calling: 22nd Annual Sandhill Crane Festival Arrives in Lodi

Sandhill Cranes, Lodi

Every fall, thousands of greater and lesser Sandhill cranes arrive in the California Delta, ready to spend their winters vacationing near Lodi. For 22 years, the Sandhill Crane Festival has celebrated the ancient birds’ arrival, along with the wildlife and natural beauty of the Lodi area.

From Friday, Nov. 2 until Sunday, Nov. 4, join the festivities at Hutchins Street Square — home base for workshops, art projects, presentations and wildlife shows — or head out into the untamed areas around Lodi to see the stars of the weekend: the Sandhill Cranes.

Take a Nature Tour

Tours to Lodi-area nature preserves and out into the Delta are the highlights of the Sandhill Crane Festival, and the most popular are the crane fly-ins.

Each evening at dusk, hundreds — sometimes thousands — of Sandhill cranes leave the areas where they have been foraging for food and return to their winter roosting grounds at the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve and Cosumnes River Preserve near Lodi, and at Staten Island in the Delta. Volunteer guides share stories about the cranes’ natural history as the stately birds return home for the evening, calling out as they soar through the sky.

The popular Crane Roving tour will take you to the birds’ favored feeding spots during the daylight hours. The tour includes a short “fly-over” film of the area as the cranes see it, and volunteer guides explain the behavior of the foraging cranes.

Another favorite is Cruising with Captain Morgan’s Delta Adventures, a boat tour that leaves from Tower Park Marina and ventures onto the Mokelumne River to see cranes and other bird life in the Delta. As the double-decked Rosemarie sails Staten, Tyler and Brannan islands in the Delta, a naturalist will be available to identify any wildlife spotted and answer any questions. Be sure to bring a snack or lunch on this four-hour tour; drinks will be available from the on-board, no-host bar.

The Festival also features wine tasting, photo and kayak tours. Spaces fill up fast, so reservations are recommended.

Mokelumne River in the Delta region of California

More To Do at Hutchins Street Square

Hutchins Street Square serves as the hub of activity for the Sandhill Crane Festival. Be sure to stop by the Art Show, featuring the photography of artist Leslie Morris. There will also be presentations and workshops with wildlife experts and photographers, and family-friendly activities like Wild Things! and The Secret Lives of Raptors, which bring rescued wildlife to Lodi. Be sure to catch the taiko drumming performance if you’re at the Festival on Saturday.

Featured speakers will be Anne Lacy with the International Crane Foundation, on Saturday; and Wildlife and bird photonaturalist Jeffrey Rich will present the Bald Eagle’s story with his glorious photography on Sunday. Other presentations will cover topics ranging from the “private lives” of Sandhill cranes to creating a butterfly garden.

There will also be community art projects: Throughout the weekend, you can learn to fold origami cranes after the Miss Dorothy Presents program; the children are invited to play with the puppets and use the puppet stage.

The Exhibit Hall will feature nonprofit wildlife and ecological organizations, along with vendors selling all kinds of items. It’s a great place for some early holiday shopping!

If You Go

The migratory season of the Sandhill Crane occurs to the delight of both local and visiting birdwatchers. The birds engage in a dance, as well as using a call referred to as trilling, in order to attract potential mates. This yearly spectacle is well worth observing and another reason to plan a trip to Lodi.

General admission to the Sandhill Crane Festival is free, as are most of the activities based at Hutchins Street Square. Costs for the nature tours vary. Be sure to make room reservations early as rooms will sell out quickly. 

For more information about tour times, speakers, sponsors, and the Sandhill Cranes visit the Festival’s website.

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