Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Sandhill Cranes Plus Bonus

My Birds of Ontario guidebook indicates that there is only one species of crane found in the province. The Sandhill Crane was formerly more widespread but has been extirpated in south-western Ontario where we live since the 1920's. These large birds are found in Sault Ste Marie and northward in the summer breeding season. Manitoulin Island serves as a major migratory route stopover for birds crossing the Great Lakes including the Sandhill Cranes. It is the most southerly extent of their range in Ontario, and the population of these magnificent birds has been increasing there in recent years.

On our first evening there, I heard their distinctive rattling call in the field across the road. Having no idea what could make such a noise, we set off to investigate expecting to see some type of grouse or turkey. As we neared the meadow, two cranes flew into the air and off into the distance and I had a quick view of a new bird.
In total, we saw about twenty birds in our travels around the island. Our host told us they arrive by the hundreds in this area during fall migration and can be a nuisance as they eat the freshly planted fall crops in the farm fields.
Cranes mate for life and each spring they reinforce their pair bond with an elaborate courtship dance.

All the cranes we saw had brown feathers, but apparently they moult in late summer to a uniform grey colour. I have read that the cinnamon brown colour is from iron oxides in the water or from rubbing their bodies in the soil. These birds are omnivores eating insects, invertebrates, grains, tubers and small vertebrates.
They were truly my most interesting new bird of the week. I loved to watch them flying at dusk, silhouetted against the sunset. This site from Michigan's Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary gives more information about the Sandhill Crane.

Bonus material...

I walked over to see the cranes every day and in the adjacent meadow, these Northern Flickers were usually perched or feeding on dead stumps and branches. They were most beautiful in flight with their yellow under wings and tail feathers flashing in the sunlight. I took many pictures of them and this is my favourite.


  1. Ruth,

    These are wonderful photos of the cranes and flickers. Your vacation was action packed and I feel your enthusiasm! Thanks for sharing. Bravo!

  2. Ruth - sandhill cranes are so fascinating. They are so graceful looking when coming in for a landing. And I can always identify this bird by sound - one of the few that I can. :) I like your flicker pix, too.

  3. We have Sand Hill Cranes in our area too. I've only been able to get a long distance shot of them! I need a better camera to get any bird shots!

    We had a couple of families of Flickers hanging out in our yard this year. They were fun to watch as they taught their young how to forage for food. They eat ants and we say go to it!!! We have an abundance of ants in our yard ... big ant hills in the back of our property. We get all manner of woodpeckers. We have so much beetle kill (pine) that the wood peckers are having a hay day!

  4. How beautiful Ruth. Love the flickers too. Their call is so very distinctive.

  5. Hi Ruth,
    Those are really nice Sandhill Crane pictures. I would love to be able to see some that close in the wild.

  6. Great post on the sandhill cranes--magnificent birds.

  7. Found your blog through your comment to Cicero Sings...she and I live not too far apart. I'm a discharge planning nurse in a small hospital in BC's central interior.

    We have sandhill cranes in the spring and summer in the meadow behind our property. I love to sit out late in the evening and listen to their calls. We had the pleasure last fall of witnessing their gathering before they migrated south. We could hear a distant call, and looked everywhere and eventually looked directly overhead. There were about twenty cranes very high up, circling and calling, and gradually they were joined by others from all directions. About fifty of them eventually spiralled up and up on a thermal. We watched them ascend until they were just tiny dots in the sky. It was a wonderous, glorious thing to witness.

    Nice to meet you.

  8. Oh to be able to see those cranes up close. Your pictures are wonderful Ruth!

  9. Mary- Thanks. It was great going to this place in July. We went last September and the birds had already left.

    MaryC- So they go your way in the winter. The sound they make is very unique. I like Flickr a lot...nice of you to visit my page.

    Cicero Sings- My bird guide shows the cranes are west and north of here. I got a telephoto lens for my Canon Powershot S3IS and am able to get much better pictures from distance. To bad about your pine beetles, but watching the woodpeckers must be nice.

    Jayne- I have never noticed the Flicker's call. I will have to check it out.

    Ruthie- I think the cranes are in MN too. At first they just flew off when we came near, but then we found some more interested on feeding than flying.

    KGMom- Magnificent is the word. I seem to like the big birds like herons and cranes. (Sometime I will have to scan a picture of my dad riding an ostrich in S. Africa.)

    Karen and Mike- Thanks for stopping by and commenting. How lucky you are to have the cranes so close to you. That would be something to see so many in the air. I read that they fly in a "V" pattern like geese when they migrate.

    Dorothy- I wasn't all that close to the birds. I saw more details in the pictures than I did in the field. I would love to see them dance.

  10. Sounds like great birding! I tried to find a reported Sandhill Crane 20 miles from where I live but had no luck.-I'd love to see one some day.

  11. Anonymous6:58 am GMT-4

    Ruth, you brought back some fond memories. I saw lots of sandhills when I lived in Florida, but haven't seen one since :-(

    The rust coloration is interesting - never saw that on the Florida birds!

  12. Oh Ruth! You lucky! Your pictures are wonderful. I've never been so close to these awesome birds and have rarely, but happily heard that unusual call they make.

  13. Larry- It is great to come across a bird you are not expecting at all. I knew nothing about cranes. I hoped to see a bluebird and an owl when I was away, but saw neither. But I had plenty of new birds.

    LauraO- The rusty colouring threw me off when I first looked these birds up in my guide. I didn't see any with all grey feathers. They must tidy themselves up before going to Florida!

    Cathy- Yes, the call is very distinctive and I will not forget it.


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