I looked out and there they were, the pair of sandhill cranes who have taken to hanging out in my neck of the woods for the past couple of years. They belong to the long list of creatures I have never seen before recent times, joining great white egrets, greater yellowlegs, fishers, eagles, swans, turkey vultures, coyotes, wolves, deer and beavers. Also black flies. Let’s not forget black flies. None of these inhabited the landscape of my childhood when the land was plowed, mowed and cleared. With the abandonment of poor farmland to red cedars and the wind, mother nature has been busily repopulating the place with all her favorites.
Sandhill cranes are among the most impressive around here. Africa may have its ostriches and Australia their emus but we have sandhill cranes. Standing three to five feet tall, with an over five foot wingspan, they can pretty well look you in the eye should they care to. Yet, despite their size, they are hard to spot, even standing just over the fence in the field across the road. Their brownish gray plumage blends in perfectly with the brown fields and you don’t know they are there until a part of the field starts moving or you catch a flash of the scarlet mask across their face. Mostly, it’s their trilling call that gives the away.
They generally ignore people and traffic as being beneath their majestic notice. They spend an hour or two out in the field, plunging their powerful beaks into the earth, in search, I’m told, of succulent roots to devour. Looks to me like a lot of dirt goes with that snack. They also eat just about anything else from grain, berries, nuts, mice, snakes and frogs and even nestling birds. Not at all picky about the menu. Not wise to go near them if you are little and juicy. Only the largest predators will have a go at a full grown sandhill crane and they are apt to get their skull pierced for their trouble.
The cranes in the field had a third one with them last year so I assume junior has spent the requisite year with mama and papa and is now off partying with some freewheeling flock of similar juveniles. No need to think of a mate or household duties until five or six years have passed. Since they can live more than twenty years and mate for life, they may need to spend a little time picking out a truly simpatico partner.
After a lazy winter in Texas or Florida, sandhill cranes are said to return to the same place, even the same nest each season. Their most common place of choice is up above the tree line in the tundra so why they this pick this neighbourhood I can’t imagine unless it’s the roasting summers and proclivity for drought.
I hope my pair plan on new chicks this season. I’ll be watching to see who shows up with them in the pasture when the babies are old enough to fly.