Before I met Peter, my avid birder, I had never heard of the Sandhill Crane. That changed as I began to learn about birds and become aware of my surroundings!
Sandhill Cranes fly south for the winter forming flocks of over 10,000 birds. One terrific place to observe them is at Bosque del Apache in New Mexico. There is an annual Sand Hill Crane Festival every November.
We took a birding trip and got up very early in the cold morning to get to the area where the cranes would take off and land. Thousands of these birds migrate to this area each year to create quite a noisy spectacle. The birds are skilled at soaring with their 5 -7 ft wingspan and they can ride the thermals for hours at a time. These beautiful light grey birds with red foreheads land by the water and in fields making loud trumpeting calls. They eat plants, grains, mice, snakes, insects, and worms. They often dig in the farmer’s fields for tubers…..probably not politically correct behavior!
All cranes dance, which includes bowing, jumping, running, stick or grass tossing, as well as wing flapping. Commonly associated with courtship, dancing can occur at any age and season. It is generally believed to be a normal part of motor development for cranes and thwarts aggression, relieves tension, and strengthens the pair bond. Sounds like some of the same reasons we dance!
Since that first trip, I’ve seen Sandhill Cranes in several other places in Arizona most recently in Cibola National Wildlife Refuge. I’ve included some links that might be of interest to you if you want to follow the migration in AZ. The Cranes can also be found migrating to freshwater wetlands in Florida, Texas, Utah, Mexico and California. They breed in Northern U.S., Canada, Alaska, and Siberia.http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/newmex/bosque/