A Pandemonium of Trumpets, Croaks, Rattles, and Cries
Category: Birding at the Chico

 Some of our most majestic flying birds, Sandhill Cranes, are common in fall migration at both Chico Basin Ranch and in the San Luis Valley where in spring an annual crane festival highlights this incredible bird.  Two populations occur in migration, Greater Sandhill Cranes breed in the Rocky Mountain regions whereas Lesser Sandhill Cranes migrate east across the Bering Strait before heading south where some join Greater Sandhills flying over Colorado.  The naturalist, Aldo Leopold, described approaching and calling Sandhill Crane flocks as first "a tinkling of little bells" and as they fly closer as "the baying of some sweet-throated hound" and finally when closely overhead as "a pandemonium of trumpets, croaks, rattles, and cries." During clear weather migration Sandhill Cranes can fly high over the Rocky Mountains, but each evening they land in large flocks in marshy areas or in stubble fields and feast on corn and other grains. Because of their fondness for corn, a chemical has been developed to add to corn kernels before they are planted which remarkably keeps these huge migrant flocks feeding on other seeds in the corn fields but not on corn itself. 

Sandhill Cranes are monogamous and they remain paired throughout the year staying a pair until one bird dies. Newly formed pairs join in elaborate dancing before pairing. A brief description of part of their courtship display follows. One member of the pair elevates its bill, arching slightly forward and emits a low purring call. The mate reciprocates. One of the pair then circles the other with wings flapping and the male jumps on the female's back. The male then jumps forward over his mate's head, begins a threat display, and then both enter into a long sequence of  preening. Fun to watch at any of the spring crane festivals in New Mexico, Colorado, and Nebraska. 

Posted by Bill M. on 10/09/2017
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