Sandhill cranes gather in a field at the Hiwassee Refuge. (Photo: Bob Butters)

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency will be hosting the 2018 Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival in Birchwood Jan. 13–14 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.

The festival is held yearly at the Hiwassee Refuge, located at the confluence of the Tennessee and Hiwassee rivers, and at the nearby Birchwood Community Center. The event, featuring the popular American Eagle Foundation, recording artists 2nd Nature, a main speaker, folk singers, and arts and craft vendors, will again be sponsored by Olan Chlor.

The Cherokee Removal Memorial, located next to the old Blythe Ferry site and close to the Hiwassee Refuge, will once again be hosting Native American folklorists and crafts throughout the weekend. It also is the site of a bluff-top overlook pavilion with a view of the Tennessee River and Hiwassee Island—which is a great location for viewing sandhill cranes and other birds.


The area will be buzzing with birds and birdwatchers alike. Although the sandhill crane is the star of the event, many types of waterfowl, bald eagles, golden eagles, white pelicans and perhaps even whooping cranes are likely to be spotted.

Free buses will shuttle visitors the short distance from the Birchwood Community Center to the Hiwassee Refuge and the Cherokee Removal Memorial, both of which will provide great birding opportunities. Volunteers and scopes are set up at each location to help novice birders or curious visitors.

The recovering population of eastern sandhill cranes began stopping at the Hiwassee Refuge in the early 1990s as they migrated to and from their wintering grounds in Georgia and Florida. TWRA has been managing the refuge for waterfowl for more than 60 years. Thus, the cranes find a perfect combination of areas for feeding and roosting. As many as 12,000 cranes have been known to overwinter in and around the Hiwassee Refuge.

View a schedule of events and list of additional festival partners here.

Click here for a vendor application.

Sandhill cranes are the most numerous and wide-ranging of all worldwide crane species, with a population exceeding 600,000. The eastern population has undergone an impressive recovery, rebounding from an estimated 25 breeding pairs in the 1930s to a minimum population of over 87,000 in recent years.

The core breeding range extends from south-central Ontario, Michigan and Wisconsin into Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Quebec. In recent years, this range has expanded east into several New England states, as well as south into Indiana and Ohio.

The Atlantic and Mississippi flyways are the main migratory routes of the eastern population. These cranes have traditionally wintered in Florida and Georgia, but recently are wintering farther north in Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and even southern Ontario.

The cranes that migrate through or winter in portions of Tennessee are considered the world’s second-largest sandhill crane population. For the past five years, Tennessee has wintered an average of 23,000 cranes. Besides the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, the Hop-in Refuge and surrounding lands near Reelfoot Lake in West Tennessee attract several thousand sandhill cranes. Smaller groups can be seen scattered across Tennessee.

Whether you’re an avid birder or have never seen a sandhill crane before, the Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival offers an extraordinary opportunity to witness a natural phenomenon.