The Suitcase Lady


April 30, 2013, 10:10 pm

I saw two big redheads standing in a field beside the highway this week. At up to five feet tall with a flaming red streak on their foreheads, Sandhill Cranes stand out like exclamation points on the landscape.

The Sandhills are one of only two crane species in North America and they number about 530,000. In contrast, the Whopping Crane is extremely rare with a total population of both wild and captive birds numbering around 600.

Wisconsin is Sandhill country. These impressive birds return from their Florida vacations as early as the end of February or the first weeks of March. Pairs, which mate for life, stake out a territory in a marsh. Having sex in a cold, wet marsh wouldn’t appear to be a turn on, but the cranes go at it with gusto. They preen mud into their feathers and engage in unison calling and dancing, which consists of bowing, jumping, running, stick and grass tossing and wing flapping. The Sandhills can jump 20 feet high in the exuberance of a mating dance.

Their nests are built from large clumps of vegetation and are in low, wet places or even floating in the wetlands. Mom usually lays two eggs. Within 24 hours of hatching, the young, who are called colts, can walk, swim and find food. Their shape resembles “eggs on legs”. By day two, the baby Sandhills, who are all highly aggressive, start fighting. They play for keeps: frequently, only one survives. Real life is not a Disney movie.

The remaining family spends the summer together in farmers’ fields eating their favorite food, grain. But like most survivors, they are not fussy eaters……berries, seeds, insects, crayfish, worms, clams, reptiles, amphibians and even small birds and mammals are all on their menus.

When Sandhills take to the air,  they always fly with their necks extended and their legs trailing behind, like giant arrows transversing the sky.

Click on this link to view these magnificent birds.



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