Monday, June 12, 2023

Parental Love Sandhill Crane Style

Originally I just posted a few pictures on Facebook of a Sandhill Crane family in my marsh. I decided to put several posts together in blog form for a more complete story. For many years a Sandhill Crane couple have called my property home. Some years they have a nest that produces one or two young colts. Some years the nest fails, and they go about their business foraging all summer until it's time to migrate. After a failure, I have never seen them re-nest. I can't be sure if it's the same couple, but I think they are territorial and it is the same couple that show up every year in March. Sandhill Cranes can live over 20 years with proper food and conditions. My marsh is pretty much ideal. This year was different however. I saw them early in the spring but the marsh was completely flooded this year. I couldn't see any place suitable for building a nest. I am glad it flooded early because the most tragic year I have seen was flooding after the nest was built and the eggs were laid. We did not get any rain for the entire month of May. The water receded rapidly, and one day I spotted the cutest little baby crane with its parents. I don't know where the nest was but it must have been in a safe spot and within walking distance. The baby was very young and not close to flying yet, but he sure is learning how to become independent and spread his wings.

I wasn't sure where this little family was sleeping so I was happy to observe them pick out a spot within viewing distance from my window. As the marsh dried up, a mound of dirt appeared. It was surrounded by boggy marshland. A couple evenings after I first observed the family and after giving baby a little nudge, I saw the parents fly over to this mound. 

The baby was left alone and he couldn't fly so he started walking over to his parents. The dad flew back to watch from the shore and the mom watched from the sleeping spot. It was not an easy task. He got stuck many times. I don't know crane behavior that well but it looked like the parents were teaching the baby how to problem solve. Fortunately he made it. Both parents watched carefully. I want to believe they would have stepped in with some sort of rescue if necessary. The mama was right there to greet him at the end. I could just hear her say "good job".

When they all were settled in their new space, it was time to sleep. The young crane is still sleeping under his mother's wing. She would lay down and then he would crawl in. The bigger he gets, the harder that will be.


Day after day the process of getting to the nest wasn't easy. The mom would fly over, the dad would stay on the shore and the baby would make its way across nearly drowning. The task did get easier as the marsh dried more and more. The young one learned the easiest path across and didn't have as much trouble the last couple days. They had a schedule. Every afternoon they would move closer and closer to the sleeping area. Some days they had to contend with interlopers. A family of geese thought they could also stay in the same area. The cranes didn't want any part of that.

Then one morning about 3AM, I heard the famous loud cry of the Sandhill Crane that we are all familiar with. It was still dark out but I had the windows open. I could see the silhouette of the male crane. It must have been a warning. I went back to sleep and checked again at 5AM when it happened again.  This time the family packed up and left. They haven't returned. I think they were too vulnerable out in the open without the safety of the bog to protect them. Also, the baby was getting to big to be protected by mama's wing. I still see them. I think they are sleeping in the tall grass. The baby isn't a baby anymore.  He wanders off and gets his own food.  I am sure he will be flying soon. I will never know what scared them that last night, but parental love or instinct is protecting their offspring. Just as it should be.

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