The Crane Meadows Rice-Skunk Lake Important Bird Area is located in Morrison County about 5 miles SE of Little Falls, MN and 65 miles NW of the Twin Cities. It is easily accessed via U.S. Hwy 10. Situated between Camp Ripley, Mille Lacs, Avon Hills, and Sherbourne IBAs it is part of a complex of IBAs located in central Minnesota that are important to breeding and migratory birds alike. This part of the state will continue to be under development pressure as the Twin Cities, St. Cloud, and Brainerd areas all expand. Ownership is a mix of Federal and State lands along with small parcels in private ownership. The public lands include the Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Crane Meadows Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and Rice-Skunk WMA.
Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge was established to preserve a large, natural wetland complex and serves as an important stop for many species of migrating birds. It is located within a large watershed that includes Rice, Skunk and Mud Lakes, Platte and Skunk Rivers, and Rice and Buckman Creeks. Habitats include sedge meadow wetlands, native tallgrass prairie, oak savanna, and wetlands with stands of wild rice. Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge presently exists as scattered parcels totaling about 2,000 acres but has a total authorized acquisition boundary of 13,540 acres.
Crane Meadows Wildlife Management Area is 180 acres of mostly lowland grass and brush with limited upland wooded areas of aspen and oak. Buckman Creek flows through and is accessible within the unit. Year-round recreational opportunities are available at this WMA from hunting and fishing to bird watching, cross country skiing and hiking.
Rice-Skunk Wildlife Management Area is a 426 acre unit characterized by oak woods, lowland aspen and brush emergent wetlands and lowland grasses. Management focuses on maintaining and improving habitat, similar to that of the Crane Meadows WMA. Recreational opportunities are available year-round.
Crane Meadows Rice-Skunk Lake IBA is important to migrating waterfowl, nesting waterbirds and both breeding and migratory populations of Sandhill Cranes. The diversity of birds that have been documented to occur within this IBA throughout the year is also impressive with 204 species, including 57 species of Conservation Concern or species of Greatest Conservation Need, 32 of which have been documented nesting. Crane Meadows is also known for quality wetlands in an area otherwise dominated by agriculture and has 7 of the 9 species that characterize quality sedge meadow habitat.
MN1a - Significant concentrations of migrating waterfowl
Estimated counts conducted by the Minnesota DNR, recorded up to 10,000 ducks per day during the 2-6 week peak migration period during both spring and 3,000 ? 6,000 individuals during fall migration annually. DNR estimates there duck-use days of 100?s of thousands. Regularly observed species of migrating waterfowl include: Gadwall, Mallard, American Wigeon, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Buffelhead, Common Goldeneye, Ruddy Duck, as well as common, hooded and red-breasted mergansers. Uncommon visitors include Harlequin Duck, Cinnamon Teal, White-winged Scoter and Black Scoters.
MN1a - Significant concentrations of waterbirds
Green Herons, American Bitterns and Least Bitterns are known to nest in the IBA. Other waterbirds regularly observed in the area but not known to be nesting include: Black-crowned Night Heron, Great-blue Heron, and American White Pelican. Snowy and Great Egrets have been observed on the basins during non-breeding periods.
MN1d - Significant concentrations of migrating cranes
The USFWS counted 839 Sandhill Cranes in a 2011 survey, but casual observations of cranes in the area estimate flock numbers in the 1000?s during both spring and fall migration. Also of note, three Whooping Cranes from the Whooping Crane Recovery Project were observed at Crane Meadows Rice-Skunk IBA in the fall of 2005 and 2006.
MN1e - Species Diversity
204 species have been documented at Crane Meadows Rice Skunk IBA. Thirty-two species of Greatest Conservation Need or Species of Conservation Concern are known to nest at Crane Meadows Rice-Skunk IBA:
Point counts conducted in 2011 by the USFWS recorded significant numbers of the following species: American Bittern ? 56, Sedge Wren ? 447, Swamp Sparrow (330), Marsh Wren (228).
Additionally a Wilsons Phalarope nest and young were seen at Crane Meadows in 1991, but no further documentation of them nesting here has been found. Three Whooping Cranes from the Whooping Crane Recovery Project were observed at Crane Meadows Rice-Skunk IBA in the fall of 2005 and 2006. As this Wisconsin based recovery population becomes more established it is expected to expand into Minnesota and this area may serve as a Whooping Crane migratory stop over or breeding area.
MN-3. Rare, threatened, or unique habitat assemblages
Crane Meadows contains an assemblage of 7 of the 9 species that are emblematic of the Sedge Wetland (rich fen, poor fen, wet meadow) habitat type
Uplands surrounding the wetland complex continue to experience pressure from agricultural development. Isolated wetlands in adjacent agricultural fields are susceptible to being drained and remnants of native prairie, oak savanna and woodland habitats are vulnerable to conversion into large agricultural fields. The transition into agricultural lands is usually followed by secondary impacts of increased pesticide use and introduced invasive species. Residential development is also increasing on the uplands adjacent to the wetland complex.