Sandhill Cranes Remain Devoted as Ever Despite Family Tragedy

The pair of sandhill cranes that nest each year in my beaver pond, have raised another baby into long-legged readiness for the big flight south. However, this year, they have not escaped family tragedy. We had high hopes when, early on, we saw that they had hatched two chicks, little fuzzy yellow creatures following mom and dad everywhere.

two baby cranes

The two crane chicks in happier days. Only one survives. Photo credit for chicks and featured photo at the top: Dave Ellis

When the chicks were big enough to venture out into the pasture to forage, I would see babies gobbling goodies  in their quest to grow as fast as they could. Then, for a long time, the cranes remained elsewhere.  Sadly, when they decided to return to the cow pasture, they had only one chick with them.  Their other  youngster must have fallen victim to a fox, raccoon or coyote fast enough to dodge the powerful beaks and wings of furious parents.

Crane family with one baby grown large

Momma and poppa crane with their one large young one they have left.

However, the cranes have taken good care of their single remaining offspring.  Junior is now as big as they are, fully feathered and flight worthy. With this added security of size and ease of escape, the cranes, at four feet tall with a six foot wing span, can afford to ignore cattle, wandering geese and humans screeching to a halt on the road to stare at them over the fence. 

Largely herbivorous, the cranes spend hours poking their bills into the dirt of the pasture, pulling up treats which they still fondly offer to their large child. They like to visit the spot where the cattle spend the night, turning over dried cow patties to see what they can find underneath. In a leisurely manner, they move about, never far from each other, ever pausing to survey the landscape to make sure all is well. The pasture grass, which struggles with regular drought, is cropped to the ground by the cattle and everything else it supports.

In the evening, the cranes retire to the beaver pond where they hang out with the great white egrets which are beginning to congregate and all the young Canada geese that have now grown up into large adults that also gorge themselves on pasture grass to bulk up for the big migration.

Lecturing Junior

Parents lecture junior and how to fly. Junior would rather look for bugs than listen to elders go on and on about migration and some silly thing called winter.

The young crane can now only be told from its parents by its lack of the bright red patch on its forehead.  It will stay with mom and dad until next spring when they nest again.  Then the hulking youngster will have to fly off on its own to join a flock of other such ousted juveniles. With a lifespan of up to 35 years, it needn’t be in a hurry to take on family responsibilities. It might hang out and party with the flock for five or six years before thinking to look for a mate of its own. When it does, it might even remember its county origins and fly back from Florida to the wetland of its youth where lots of pasture forage will be waiting.

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