In Fairbanks, during spring, summer and autumn months, you can hear what is tantamount to a rallying call. These are the distinct songs of birds, flocking together as they make their massive migrations. Giant V-shaped formations soar overhead, honking like motorists in rush-hour traffic. Among the most impressive of these fantastic fowl are sandhill cranes. Their clattering call and six-foot-wingspans harken back to some prehistoric pterodactyl gliding the plains of the early Earth.

Sandhill crane and colt in a grassy field

One of two populations of cranes in Alaska, the mid-continent sandhill population numbers close to half a million birds, and thousands migrate to Interior Alaska and into Eastern Siberia every year. The cranes mate for life and can live for up to 20 years in the wild. Mating pairs build large piles of vegetation in water for a nest and typically lay two eggs, with only one chick, or colt surviving through the first year.

Sandhill Cranes in flight over field of birds with barn buildings in background

Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge in Fairbanks is a major rest stop during spring and fall migrations where several thousand birds can be seen at once. Originally built as a dairy farm, the large open fields and grain were prime habitat for cranes, Canada geese, Trumpeter swan and many other species of migratory and resident birds. The farmland and buildings were transferred to the State of Alaska in the late nineteen seventies and are now part of a 2,200-acre wildlife refuge.

North American map of Sandhill crane migratory flight paths

Since 1997, Friends of Creamer’s Field, a community-based non-profit has hosted the Tanana Valley Sandhill Crane Festival. This three-day event features guest lecturers, birdwatching walks, photography workshops, bird banding, fun food, festive music, a 5k run and more.

close up of a boreal own in a spruce tree

There are many other birdwatching places around Fairbanks’ boreal forests, wooded lots and residential neighborhoods. Spotting American robins, black-backed woodpeckers and red-breasted nuthatches in summer, black-capped chickadees, redpolls and pine grosbeaks in winter and many others year-round is inevitable. Thanks to a diversity of habitats, location on migratory routes, and boundless wildlands, Interior Alaska is a birder’s paradise. More noteworthy birds include the gyrfalcon, willow ptarmigan, boreal owl—check off dozens of species on your birder life list.

a willow ptarmigan bird perched on a willow branch

If you go:

  • What: 22nd Annual Tanana Valley Sandhill Crane Festival
  • When: August 23 - 25, 2019, events all-day
  • Hours: Creamer's Field Refuge and trails are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
  • Where: Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge 1300 College Rd
  • Cost: Free (donations welcome, food available for purchase)
  • More Information: Call (907) 452-5162 or find information at