Sandhill Cranes!

Well, I was finally able to get some video and photos of the Sandhill Cranes (Grus Canadensis) around the Cosumnes River Preserve.  I’d gone to the preserve for their 3:30 pm tour to see the cranes, but there were about 100 people there (!) and they were going to pack us out into two large groups — which meant traveling with about 50 people I didn’t know, unable to hear the tour guide, and not being able to keep up if they walked quickly…  So, I went inside the visitors’ center there, snagged a map of where the cranes usually roost around the preserve, and went out to look for them myself.

I started off by picking the nearest crossroad and, as luck would have it, within less than a mile I found a whole flock of the cranes sitting and standing in a wetlands area with egrets, White-Fronted Geese, and other birds.  They were maybe 75 feet from me, so I had to use my zoom lens, and the light was “severe” because it was late in the afternoon and the shadows were getting long, but I was still able to snag some fairly good shots of them… These are “Great” Sandhill Cranes, different from the smaller ones in Florida, Cuba and Mississippi in size and some coloring (especially in the red patches on their heads).  I figured the largest ones were about 4 feet tall (the taxidermied one in the visitors’ center came up to about my shoulder), and I saw some ochre-brown ones mixed in with the grey ones.  They all towered over the geese around them… They have this great “crackling” call that’s very distinctive; once you hear that call, you know they’re around somewhere…  I also got a few photos of some little Killdeer that were skittering around closer to the road.  In the end, I missed out on the tour, but not on the birds… so, I was satisfied.

 According to All About Birds:   “…These are slate gray birds, often with a rusty wash on the upperparts. Adults have a pale cheek and red skin on the crown. Their legs are black. Juveniles are gray and rusty brown, without the pale cheek or red crown; but some adults are also stained rusty-orange from iron-rich mud.  Chicks bright rusty-orange and covered in fluffy down… Cranes attack aerial predators by leaping into the air and kicking their feet forward. They threaten terrestrial predators by spreading their wings and hissing, eventually resorting to kicking.  The Sandhill Crane’s call is a loud, rolling, trumpeting sound whose unique tone is a product of anatomy: Sandhill Cranes have long tracheas (windpipes) that coil into the sternum and help the sound develop a lower pitch and harmonics that add richness… Although some start breeding at two years of age, Sandhill Cranes may reach the age of seven before breeding. They mate for life—which can mean two decades or more—and stay with their mates year-round. Juveniles stick close by their parents for 9 or 10 months after hatching… Sandhill Crane chicks can leave the nest within 8 hours of hatching, and are even capable of swimming… The omnivorous Sandhill Crane feeds on land or in shallow marshes where plants grow out of the water, gleaning from the surface and probing with its bill. Its diet is heavy in seeds and cultivated grains, but may also include berries, tubers, small vertebrates, and invertebrates. Non-migratory populations eat adult and larval insects, snails, reptiles, amphibians, nestling birds, small mammals, seeds, and berries…”