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In the nineteenth century, Sandhill Cranes Grus canadensis were abundant migrants and common summer residents in the lush Wisconsin wetlands and marshes, but by the mid-1930s persecution, unlimited hunting and habitat destruction had taken their toll and there were only an estimated 25 breeding pairs remaining in the state and less than 1,000 in North America.

In 1973, a University of Wisconsin Stevens Point study estimated that the crane population had expanded to 850 and they were removed from Wisconsin's endangered species list. Today, there are an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 breeding pairs thriving in the state.

In 1949, Aldo Leopold lamented the probable loss of the Sandhill Crane in 'A marshland Elegy'.
Some day, perhaps in the very process of our benefactions, perhaps in the fullness of geological time, the last crane will trumpet his farewell and spiral skyward from the great marsh. High out of the clouds will fall the sound of hunting horns, the baying of the phantom pack, the tinkle of little bells, and then a silence never to be broken, unless perchance in some far pasture of the Milky Way.

Newly hatched sandhill chicks wear fuzzy auburn top knots that glow warmly in the summer sun.

fresh out of the egg
Spring clutch size is usually two, sometimes three, with both parents carefully guarding and incubating the eggs in a raised ground nest. The hope is that one will survive to fully fledge and soar to meet its first rising thermal.

A few eager early birds return in late February after wintering in Florida and southern Georgia. Most fly in on freshening southern winds between the spring storms of March and April.


Fully formed, functional, fuzzy precocial chicks arrive after only 29 to 32 days of incubation and will leave the nest following their parents within 24 hours. They'll be bill-fed and brooded by both parents for the first 3 weeks and then intensively fed even after they are feeding on their own, over the next 10 months.

With a wingspan of five to seven feet the great effort of first flight takes place between 67 to 75 days of age.

Flying Sandhill Crane
Cranes are omnivores and forage within their wetland, field and forest territories for foliage, roots, tubers, seeds, grain, berries, snails, crayfish, worms, insects, mice, frogs, snakes, fish or whatever is handy.  
Local 'Drive-thru-Dining' at its five star finest serves up a menu of freshly 'grilled' bugs.
Flying Sandhill Crane
The song of the Sandhills begins as the first harbingers of spring raucously arrive with trumpeting, bugling, riotous rattle-calls and wildly joyous crane dance.
Spring turns into a summer song that is muted with trills and purrs as mated pairs settle into raising their families. Even unhatched chicks respond to their parents with trills and purrs from inside their shells.
Sandhills can live 20 years or more and are one of the longest-lived birds in North American.
Sandhills don't breed until the average age of 3-7 years and the mated pair will remain monogamous until one of the pair dies. Chicks will stay with their parents in a close knit family for about 10 months and migrate to their wintering grounds and return with them in the spring.
The auburn chicks of spring have become the tall lanky juveniles of summer. Juveniles don't wear the bare, red skin patch caps of the adults. I wish this chick well on his first flight south and many spring returns thereafter.
Photos by Jean Upton
                                                              THE END
                                              with a salute to cranes everywhere

Originally posted to Wild Notebook on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 01:19 PM PDT.

Also republished by Backyard Science, Birds and Birdwatching, J Town, Headwaters, Badger State Progressive, Climate Hawks, DKOMA, and Community Spotlight.

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