Finally!! The sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) are back!
Each February Leonard and I anxiously listen for the loud, harsh calls of the sandhill cranes. Their return, for us, signals that spring is indeed on the way. Although snow often falls as late as May or even June in our area, the sandhill cranes mean spring!
Last October I noted that the cranes’ southern migration was later than usual. Early yesterday morning I heard the sandhill cranes. Later Leonard confirmed that he also heard them. We went across the road to the Ash Creek Wildlife Area and saw at least a hundred cranes flying overhead and many more on the ground. February 18th is the return date this year.
Over the last five years the sandhill cranes’ return dates were:
2011 – February 12th; 2010 – February 17th; 2009 – February 25th; 2008 – February 16th; 2007 – February 11th.
For a while these tall gray birds with the red cap will remain in groups. Perennially monogamous, they will eventually pair off and nest in territorial pairs. After the cinnamon-colored chicks are grown, the cranes will again form large groups for their fall migration. Families stay together and fly south as a unit. Until next fall we can watch them as they raise their chicks and constantly probe in the wet soil and marshland for grasses, seeds, bulbs, tubers, insects, other invertebrates and small vertebrates. And their calls will echo across Big Valley.
These pictures were taken in Big Valley at the Wildlife Area and along County Road 87. Snow geese (Chen caerulescens) and greater white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons) share a field with the sandhill cranes in one photo.