The regal pair have taken to hanging out some evenings on a patch of crispy dry, grazed-to-the-ground grass just over the pasture fence. They are a sandhill crane couple who have abandoned my beaver pond where the egrets and herons sensibly remain to wade. Instead, the sandhills poke and jab into the baked earth with their powerful beaks, in search of what? Worms, grubs, roots or whatever they are extracting from the dusty bit of dirt among the gravel.
In between, they preen their feathers, stare around them with their eerie red eyes and stroll along with leisurely aplomb. Passing cars and cyclists do not bother them nor a photographer leaning over the fence.
They were here last summer too. They had a young one with them then which I hope has now taken up a life of its own. Perhaps this year’s baby did not have so happy an outcome. Foxes, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, lynxes and eagles are always on the lookout for a juicy juvenile meal. Adult sandhills are four feet tall and have a seven foot wingspan. Not a simple project for a faint-of-heart predator.
Sandhills flit about in adolescent flocks until they decide to pair off any time up to seven years old. Slow courtships for a bird but worth it for the dancing and happy songs in unison bestowed upon a mate.
They eat just about anything from tubers to berries to rodents, lizards, frogs and snakes. They have a bill that can pierce a skull and besides wetlands, they inhabit prairies, open grassland, farm fields (they love farm crops) and tundra. Indeed their favourite regions to breed in are the northern prairies and the high arctic tundra. They take their name from the Nebraskan Sandhills of the American west. Wisely, they take note of the first toe-freezing winds and spend their winters in Florida. And, oddly, that red patch on their forehead is bare skin. Wonder if it acts as sunscreen.
So I’ll keep my eye open this evening to see whether they reappear. They can be difficult spot against brown grass. I suspect the ground by the corral is a favoured spot because it has been so well fertilized by all the cattle who congregate there for a lick of salt. Yum!