I’ve always felt chuffed when the sandhill cranes deign to visit. Until a couple of years ago, I’d never even seen one. Then, one day, these majestic birds, almost five feet high, were strolling about my pasture, probing the ground with their powerful beaks and surveying the landscape as though they owned it.
Since it would be weeks between their visits, I figured my field was low on their restaurant list. But this week, they sauntered out with a new addition. A fuzzy yellow chick that hardly came up to their knees. That means they nested around my pond. And they won’t be going anywhere until junior shoots up another three feet, gets some feathers and learns to fly.
Unlike herons, who build a crazy stick nest high in the treetops, sandhill cranes nest on the ground, liking marshes, bogs and small wetlands for the purpose. They build up a large mound of marshy vegetation and lay one to three eggs which they sit on for about a month. The result is a leggy chick covered in yellow fuzz, who can leave the nest within the day and even swim should the water round the nest prove too deep for wading.
I don’t know where my cranes spend the night and I hope they don’t have to cross beaks with the tough swan family who regard the pond waters as all theirs. The chick will get bigger every day, speeding toward adult powers though it will stick with mom and dad all through the winter, spent lolling about in Florida, before tagging back to Canada with them in the spring. Only then will the chick think about life on the solo. That means three or four years partying before eying a mate of its own.
I expect lots of visits from the crane chick this summer, poking about in the grass, gobbling down tidbits mom digs up and drops in front of it. I’ll watch it grow up, I’ll watch it leave, one chilly day, for the balmy south. But maybe, just maybe it will be the first crane that thinks of my pond as truly home.