Sanctuary Protects Mississippi Sandhill Cranes

In 1975, the Mississippi Sandhill Crane was in big trouble.  Due to habitat loss, its population was down to 30-35 birds. With the establishment of the  Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, the big stately birds were given a second chance. Today, the cranes number between 130 and 150 and visitors to the 20,000 acre refuge have an opportunity to see them in the wild.

The Refuge is the only place to see the Mississippi Sandhill Crane.

While most Sandhill Cranes migrate, the Mississippi subspecies stays put year-round in the wet pine savanna near the Gulf Coast. When the savanna began to disappear, so did the birds. Establishment of the Refuge, together with a captive breeding program, has been crucial to the species’ survival.

In addition to cranes, the Refuge is home to many other types of wildlife.

The Sandhill Crane Refuge, located near Gautier, Mississippi, is a prime destination for birdwatching and the last remaining place to see the Mississippi Sandhill Crane. The wet pine savanna is one of the most species-rich environments in North America, and is home to rare orchids and carnivorous plants as well as many species of wildlife. The Visitors Center offers a 12-minute film, interactive exhibits and a chance to talk with staff and obtain trail maps and brochures. Visitors can view the wet pine savanna habitat from the observation deck and pick up a trail guide for the 3/4 mile C.L. Dees Trail or the 1-mile Fontainebleau Trail. Ranger-led tours are also available and one popular seasonal opportunity is the guided crane tours which run from late Fall to late Winter.

The Refuge aims to restore the wet pine savanna as an ideal habitat for the Sandhill Cranes.

The Refuge works to restore the endangered wet pine savanna habitat with the goal of providing an ideal habitat for the cranes as well as many other species native to the Gulf Coast. The Refuge offers environmental education programs for a variety of audiences. The unique outdoor environment provides an ideal setting for hands-on learning activities. Numerous youth and adult  groups visit every year to learn about a specific topic on wildlife, habitat, or ecological processes.

The Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, located near Gautier, Mississippi, is open seven days a week during daylight hours. The Visitor Center is open Thursday-Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information check the website at or telephone 1-228-497-6322.

Photos courtesy L. McLaurin,  US Fish and Wildlife Service

Kathie Farnell
Kathie Farnell
Freelance writer Kathie Farnell lives in Foley, Alabama, ten miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, with her husband, photographer Jack Purser, and a flock of cats. She has written travel articles for print and web publications since 1992, and also produces programming for public television and radio through her nonprofit corporation, Artemis Media Project. The couple enjoy exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations and spending time on the Gulf beaches.

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