Each spring Leonard and I anxiously await the return of sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) to Big Valley, our home. Snow may remain on the ground, yet the loud calls of sandhill cranes remind us that spring is at last on the way. Leonard and I have an informal competition with each other to see or hear the first sandhill cranes of the season.
Leonard won this year with a February 10th sighting. On the 11th we both verified that the cranes were indeed back. This year they returned at approximately the usual time. Since I have kept records, the sandhill cranes usually arrive between February 11th and February 17th. The earliest we noted a sandhill crane near our home was February 4th in 2015, the latest was February 25, 2009.
Sandhill cranes are either resident or long-distance migrants. Three subspecies of sandhill cranes live year round in Florida, Mississippi or Cuba. Three additional subspecies breed in northern North America and winter in the farmlands and open country, usually near lakes or marshes, of southern United States and northern Mexico. Migrating and wintering sandhill cranes often gather in flocks numbering in the thousands. The largest group of sandhill cranes I ever saw numbered several hundred and was observed in the summer at Ash Creek Wildlife Refuge (Modoc County CA).
Sandhill cranes mate for life (with luck, 20 years or more) and remain together throughout the year. Females choose their mates on the basis of the males’ dance displays. Sandhill cranes can begin to breed at two years of age and some do not mate until they are seven years old.
This sandhill crane was photographed along County Road 87 near our home in Lookout CA.