WILDLIFE: Celebrating Sandhill Cranes - Honk, Honk!
This section of this site shares our encounter with sandhill cranes in text, photos and videos.
If you're driving through Florida in the winter time and happen to see groups of bug eyed locals standing on street corners eagerly scanning skyward with binoculars, don't be alarmed.
It's probably not an impending asteroid collision, invading space aliens, or an Elvis sighting.
Don't laugh and honk your horn. Instead, pull over to the side of the road, get out, and listen for a different kind of honking.
About Sandhill Cranes
Honk, honk, honk!
Look up, in the sky, there they are. A hundred or more sandhill cranes, returning to their winter vacation homes in Florida from their nesting grounds in the upper mid-west.
We imagine that this annual migration of the greater sandhill crane might kind of annoy the locals.
No, not the local humans, who are charmed, but the 5,000 or so local Florida sandhill cranes, who live here year round. Why all the fuss about these noisy prodigal yankee cranes, they could be forgiven for wondering.
All sandhill cranes are pretty remarkable actually.
They are probably the most numerous and well known type of crane, and are mighty migraters, with migration routes up to 14,000 miles long.
The sandhill cranes must be doing something right, because 10 million year old fossils have been found that are identical to the sandhill cranes of today.
As you can probably tell from the photos, sandhill cranes are about 7-14 pounds, stand 3-4 tall, and have a wingspan of 6-7 feet.
They are mostly vegetarian, but not fussy ones like Phil and Kathy. They'll also eat insects and frogs, and whatever else is available in a pinch.
Sandhill Crane Romance
These elegant redheaded tourists will nest on mats of vegetation in shallow waters and most likely produce two eggs that will hatch in about a month.
After a short "playing the field" period, cranes mate for life, a charming natural fact that brings comfort to all of us old married people.
Here's an interesting sandhill crane society fact. A married sandhill crane has bright white cheeks, while those who haven't chosen a partner yet have gray cheeks. Is that clever or what? Now we're starting to understand how these guys have survived 10 million years.
We've read of, but not seen, dancing cranes who perform some kind of social ritual involving bowing, jumping around, hopping, flapping and otherwise cutting the rug. No one is exactly sure what this rave-like behavior is all about, but it's thought it's likely part of a social bonding and communication process.
Cranes Cure Our Cluelessness
Sandhill cranes are not aggressive birds, but they aren't wimps either. Although some of the cranes we've met seemed agreeable to being photographed, we have been charged by cranes when we cluelessly stepped over some invisible personal space boundary line.
I do not believe I would wish to tangle with an agitated 4 foot high bird with a foot long sharp peak. We bought a longer telephoto lens instead. Duh.
About Our Encounter
The sandhill crane photos, and some of the videos, you see on this site were filmed at Fort Cooper State Park in central Florida.
The shallow grassy waters along the edge of Lake Holathlikaha, filled with fish, insects and nesting material, appeared to be a welcome environment for these cranes and their chicks.
The lake was somewhat lower than it's highest level, which created 20 feet of dry land between the tree line and and lake edge. This provided us with a clear walking area as we followed the cranes around the edges of the lake.
The cranes were in their element, and we were in ours, only a few feet away from each other. Everybody was happy.
Viewing wildlife of any kind is always fun, but most often the encounter is fleeting glimpse of an individual creature.
It's hard to learn a lot about a wild animal from such brief connections, and you usually have to refer to an expert's book to get a better understanding of the lifestyle of the critter in question.
Thus, I'm sure you'll understand there was something unique about being able to spend hours at close range with a family unit as they went about their normal daily business. That encounter is documented in film and photo on the following pages.
More Photos And Videos
You can find more photos of this encounter with sandhill cranes, and video too, at the following pages:
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