Greetings everyone! Hope you enjoyed my last post on the Sandhill Crane Colts – hopefully at least got some pleasure out of seeing the draw dropping cuteness produced by our wilder cohabitants. Ron mentioned it in his comment, but I received a bit of sad news from the Chain O’ Lakes State Park ranger the day I wrote that post. If you recall, we were up there camping over the weekend with the goal to get some birding in. Like clockwork, my favorite Sandhill Crane couple were out an about. Yes, that same couple that produced the Colts featured in the last post. Now for the depressing news, this year, no Colts. Just the two of them foraging alone on the side of the road. A ranger happened to drive up while I was standing there admiring them – no camera, just enjoying the moment for a change. During our quick chat he informed me none of the Crane pairs had Colts this year. The current thinking is the huge amount of rain and flooding destroyed the nests/eggs. That news brought some definite sadness as I was looking forward to photographing the latest additions.
Nature does what nature does – at least I have the images and memories from our previous encounters. I also gave a foreshadowing of today’s topic in the previous writing. Animal behavior fascinates me and I am on the constant lookout for interesting interactions while out in the field. Whether it’s an intra-species interaction or inter-species encounters (link here) or maybe intriguing relationship with humans (link here) – nothing keeps me more entertained than learning from these engagements, trying to predict behavior and more critical .. trying to get it in the tin.
Hit the jump to experience some Crane behavior.
Today, we’ll cover the intra-species behavior. Ron and I struck gold back in June 2017 as we had the opportunity to watch these two Sandhill parents interacting with their two Colts (yes, the very same ones we had the opportunity to shoot last weekend). Ron and I spent a lot of time trying to insure we had all the angles of the tags one of them sports in order to submit to the government bird tracking agency. You can see those tags in the shots below – basically a set of colored bands high on the legs and if you look real close, a metal band on the foot. You would think having to lug all that hardware around would be annoying to the Crane, however, it got along just fine the entire time we were photographing it.
I am not positive yet (will know once the ID is confirmed), but I believe it is the female with all the markings. This one is a bit smaller than the other and tends to spend more time with the offspring – could be wrong and will update you as soon as Ron gets word back from the bird trackers. The shot below gives a good view of all the tags on this particular bird. Note, the ID high on the right leg is likely some form of telemetry tag as it has a small antenna protruding directly out of the bottom.
Okay, I promised you behavior and behavior you shall get. I recently learned from Cornell’s website that Sandhill Crane Colts can walk soon after hatching and their parents continue to care for them for up to 10 months. These Colts were still very young and were getting the full attention of their parents.
Primary lesson for the day was teaching their little ones how to forage for food. Absolutely fascinating the care and patience each of the parents gave to their Colts. The mother (again, assuming it is the one with the IDs) would guide each of them to random areas in the grass and point out various bugs and worms. First she would point to it and pick it up a couple of times and immediately drop it.
This would draw the Colt over to the spot where the mother would again pick the object up and present it to the Colt who would hesitantly try to take the food from the parent’s bill. In this situation it was work as the worm was busy trying to wiggle out of it’s captors. Inevitably, the Colt would eventually lose grip on it and it would fall back to the ground.
With great patience, the mother would pick it back off the ground and help her young get another grip on it. Eventually it would gain enough confidence and master the newly taught art of the hold followed by the pleasure of the yum.
Definitely not studied up on official bird postures or facial expression, but I swear once it had a hold of that worm it would strut around as if it was the first Sandhill to conquered Mt. Everest. “Hey brother, you seeing what I’m doing here, yep, I own this worm!”
This scenario played out over and over and over. Parent would coax the little one to a spot, snatch up a tasty morsel and work with the featherball until it mastered the technique. The shot below demonstrates the proper way to hold an insect – less wiggly, but harder shelled.
Each parent was doing their part. At various times the male (again, assuming due to size) would drop in and grab a completely different type of insect. Each Colt watching intently as the various life lessons were being acted out in real time – no boring classrooms for these feathered pupils.
Lesson presented, process comprehended, skillset ingrained via immediate trial and error – I think humans would be well served by this model rather than simply giving a kid a problem in a book and assume they aren’t just going to flip to the back and get the answer – probably dated myself there – let’s change that to walk over to the keyboard and DuckDuckGo the answer.
Of course, knowing how to eat a bug doesn’t do you much good if you don’t know how to sneak up on them. “Be very very very quiet, carefully lift each foot up and put it down as softly as possible…. You mean like this daddy!?! I’m hunting wascally wabbits”
“Practice, practice, practice. practice” “Hey bro, let’s sneak up on one of those scrumptious worms”
Next lifelesson was “Fear the mighty Crane”. That’s right, nobody messes with us or we whip out the Crane-Fu. This was a blast to sit and watch. The parents would bring their Colts in close and then proceed to raise their wings and attack the phantom enemies. Sure enough, the Colts would try to mimic the behavior – now, the adults were definitely scary.. the Colts … well, let’s just say that produced the biggest smiles that carried me through the following weeks – same effect when I added the shots to this post. Truly a heartwarming experience.
“Hey mommy, there’s a Chipmunk, watch us scare the crap out of it!
“Ummm, mommy, why is that stupid Chipmunk laughing at us – you just wait until my 78″ wingspan develops and then you will fear me … meanwhile mom, give them a taste of what’s to come – yeah, that’s my mom and you can suck it Chippy”
And the best part of all this – each of the parents would let their children explore their new surroundings, stretch their wings and practice – all under the protective eyes ready to drop in and deter predators while making sure those photographers that have been watching them for the past hour keep a safe distance.
It’s field memories like these that fill my heart and make the world’s problems take a backseat. Let’s hope next year brings better luck on the offspring. Ron and I will be there to document the experience for sure. In closing thought I’d put in the shot of the foot band. We spent a long time this weekend attempting to get all the numbers isolated from a safe distance without disturbing the bird. It would help if they would go to the same coding model as resistors and simply go by ordered colored bands instead of trying to pick out an engraved number from 75 feet+ back.
All I have for now. There is another set of Cranes with their much older juvi, but I’ll save those for another day. Until then, stay safe everyone!