Sandhill Crane

By Dave Hanks

On the morning air, I hear a most unforgettable call. It is a call that resounds over a wide area. Looking up I witness three large birds. Birds with long necks, long legs, and an impressive wing span. I am seeing a most impressive bird – a bird that can live up to 25 years and mates for life. The third member of the pair is the most recent offspring. If you see only two flying, that’s an indication that their reproductive efforts for the year were unsuccessful.

Sandhills are gray, but may on occasion appear brown because of a tendency to get smeared with mud. This stately species also has a red forehead, white cheeks, and yellow eyes. Courtship displays are elaborate and consist of much bowing, with wings out spread, followed with giant leaps into the air. A stick, or another object such as a corn cob, is tossed into the air and seized by the partner – this is believed to strengthen bonds. After nesting, one chick is hatched. It’s a fuzzy, golden-brownish one that is very lovable, grows rapidly, but requires three years to reach maturity.

To observe these cranes in summer, scan secluded meadows and listen for their calls. Gray’s Lake, Idaho (to the northeast of Soda Springs) is a major nesting area – or a few pairs can be seen close to the Hayspur Fish Hatchery at Picabo, Idaho. The Plate River in Nebraska is a major stop-over during the spring migration, and Bosque del Apache, New Mexico is a major wintering spot. Huge numbers of crane can be seen in both winter and spring locales. When migrating, they will flap-fly to gain elevation and then, with wings extended to ride the updrafts, will float-fly for long distances. When settling down again for the night, they prefer to stand in water that is about six inches deep. Predators would have a more difficult time sneaking up on them with out making a noise.

To see a large group of Sandhill Cranes lifting off from their shallow ponds in the early morning, or again in the evening returning in groups of twos and threes like planes coming in to land, is truly a spectacle that I would wish for everyone to see. Their calls will be imprinted on your brain forever.

(Wading through the weedy shallows)