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Sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) have one of the oldest fossil records of any existing birds, going back at least 2.5 million years. These prehistoric looking birds are an immense joy to those of us privileged to know them in our backyards. This diary was originally going to be based on photographic and observational records from a number of years to create a detailed chronological sequence for a single year. However, that is daunting, so I decided to share a portion of the information from this year and add to it as things progress.

Follow below the twisted nest of orange marsh grass for more details on these fascinating birds and my first ever photos of their mating.
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The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group.  It is a place to note any observations you have made of the world around you.  Rain, sun, wind...insects, birds, flowers...meteorites, rocks...seasonal changes...all are worthy additions to the bucket.  Please let us know what is going on around you in a comment.  Include, as close as is comfortable for you, where you are located. Each note is a record that we can refer to in the future as we try to understand the patterns that are quietly unwinding around us.

The sandhill crane was under immense stress in Michigan in the early 20th century.  There were an estimated 17 nesting pairs in the entire state in 1931.  Today, the estimated number of migrating sandhill cranes in south central Michigan, where they congregate before leaving, is estimated at about 20,000.  While habitat conservation is certainly important, I believe that the dramatic recovery must be related to hunting bans.

We see the birds return here in late February or early March.  They returned a bit late this year on March 12th as opposed to February 27th last year. (I am working on a graph of arrival dates, but it will have to wait.)  In the fall of 2013, the last cranes showed up in our back yard on November 11th, and the last I saw in the neighborhood was November 13th. So, this winter season they were gone for 122 days.

Traditionally, they nest about a month after they arrive, but with the late arrival we will have to wait and see. The way we can tell they are nesting is when we see a single crane go off to feed as opposed to the pair. Both cranes sit on the nest, but with the female taking the night shift, she does about 70% of the incubation, according to The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior.

This morning I saw a pair arrive in the backyard amid their loud bugling or trumpeting (play typical voice here). They were doing their fancy dance, which I didn't get a picture of, but I did get these shots on an overcast late winter morning.

Some photos from this March 15th (in lightbox, click to enlarge):

Sandhill Crane

Feeding in the yard

That look in his eye

Sandhill Crane Mating

Sandhill Crane Mating

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

Was it good for you?

Sandhill crane bugling

I will post more photos and information as the season progresses.

What is happening in your backyard?

Remember


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Originally posted to Backyard Science on Sun Mar 16, 2014 at 05:30 AM PDT.

Also republished by Birds and Birdwatching and Community Spotlight.

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