The Jasper-Pulaski Important Bird Area is located in the northwestern portion of the state and straddles the boundaries of northeast Jasper, northwest Pulaski, and southwestern Starke Counties. This 30,000+acres IBA includes various public and privately-owned properties. The core of the site is the state-owned Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area (approximately 8,000 acres), which is renowned in the Midwest for its large migratory congregations of Sandill Cranes. Given their significance for foraging cranes during their southbound journeys, the surrounding agricultural fields have also been designated as part of this IBA. Additionally, the neighboring Tefft Savanna Nature Preserve and the Jasper-Pulaski Tree Nursery have been integrated into the site.
Jasper-Pulaski hosts the largest fall congregations of 'Greater' Sandhill Cranes during their southbound migration from the Midwest. In fact, virtually the entire eastern population of this subspecies stages at this site during fall migration. Peak daily counts of these birds in mid to late-November often exceed 20,000 individuals; however, the highest known tally for the area occurred on November 26, 2002, when 34,629 Sandhill Cranes were counted. These birds can also be found in the area during early spring, but they arrive in considerably smaller numbers.
With the reintroduction of a second Whooping Crane migratory population via the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership and Operation Migration, Jasper-Pulaksi has emerged over the past several years as an important migratory stop-over point for these critically endangered birds. Previously reintroduced birds have been spotted at this site since 2002, with a peak of five individuals counted during mid-November of 2005, which included birds from the reintroductory classes of 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004.
Given the variety of habitats within the state-owned fish and wildlife area, the Jasper-Pulaski IBA supports a diversity of bird species in addition to the large crane congregations. The oak flats and savannas harbor breeding Red-headed Woodpeckers, a WatchList species, and the marshes within the preserve often support sizeable congregations of migratory waterfowl. Additionally, several species of raptors, including Northern Harrier and Rough-legged Hawk, can be found at Jasper-Pulaski during the winter months.
Because of the large number of Sandhill Cranes that stage here in the fall, and considering the recent occurrence of the critically-endangered Whooping Crane, a disease outbreak could be devastating for the conservation of these congregatory species. This threat is of growing concern given current developments within Jasper County. The couny's planning commission recently voted (November 2005) to rezone land to the immediate southwest of the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area for a large confined animal feeding operation. The proposed farm, which will house nearly 2500 hogs, would be a source of pollutants and microrganisms that could eventually affect the health of nearby feeding and roosting cranes.
In addition, loss of feeding habitats is an increasing threat within the Jasper-Pulaski IBA. Staging Sandhill Cranes disperse from the state-protected resting unti to feed in the surrounding agricultural fields during the day; these areas are becoming more attractive to residential builders, and the fields could be eventually rezoned and developed.