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The Elegant Sandhill Crane


Sandhill Cranes were hunted nearly to extinction in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but conservation efforts have allowed these elegant birds to re-bound, and their numbers have grown steadily. 

Sandhill Cranes are easy to recognize with their grayish feathers and a bald red skin patch on their foreheads. In summer, their plumage takes on a reddish-brown appearance, the result of preening themselves by rubbing iron rich mud on their feathers.

With a wingspan of two metres and standing up to 1.2 metres tall, they make a really impressive sight in the marsh. Their excellent dancing skills help fend off insects and aggressive blackbirds.

My favourite location to photograph Sandhill Cranes is along the north shore of Lake Erie near Long Point. With the warming climate, they can be found in this area in the hundreds all year long. Their diet which consists of 90% plant material is plentiful where the agricultural area of Norfolk County offers a year-round supply of waste grain in the farm fields adjacent to the Long Point Marsh. After spending a typical morning foraging for food, they leave the fields en masse and head into the marsh.

Plentiful food can be found in and around the marsh where they also dine on small insects, crustaceans, amphibians, and small mammals.

The loud, rattling bugle call of Sandhill Cranes is unmistakable. I think it has a staccato like sound. These calls are used to co-ordinate groups in flight and to communicate with nearby birds on the ground. When a male and female pair are close together, they often call-in unison.

Sandhill Cranes have to share the marsh with other nesting birds. Red-winged Blackbirds don’t take kindly to a monster crane straying too close to their nesting sites.

Both male and female adults share the job of building the nest from cattails, sedges, and grasses. 

The female will lay one to three eggs and after an incubation period of about 30 days the chicks, called colts, will hatch.

The young colts are usually ready to leave the nest for periods of time within about eight hours of hatching and grow rapidly, up to 2.5 cm. a day. The photograph below of a young crane with its parents was taken in the first week of July.

I never tire of watching these majestic birds spring into flight and gracefully soar with great skill over the marsh.

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