A Crane-derful morning

We heard there were a large number of Sandhill Cranes at a Wildlife Management Area just north of the Twin Cities, so we headed up there early in the morning, hoping to catch the cranes out feeding in the wetlands.  Our first encounter was spectacular, a male and female emerged from the very tall cattails (where just their heads had been visible) to perform a little courtship dance for us. (Click on any of the photos to get a larger view.)

Sandhill Crane, Carlos Avery WMA, MN

Here’s the male — isn’t he studly? Now watch what he does next after strutting a little in front of his not very interested mate.

Sandhill Crane courtship display

The head thrown back accompanied by crane “rattles”, their distinctive call.

Sandhill Crane courtship display

Wings fully spread, bill pointed to the sky…

Sandhill Crane courtship display-

A little jump just to tease her with the full range of his repertoire

Sandhill Crane courtship display-

The neck-wrenching posture gives me a back ache watching him.

That was quite exciting, but the best was yet to come, as we continued our drive around the pools of Carlos Avery WMA, and stumbled upon the mega-herd of about 100 cranes feeding just as we predicted in the short grassy wetlands.

Sandhill Cranes-feeding in wetlands at Carlos Avery WMA, MN

There are groups of cranes in the foreground, mid, and background areas here, but their brownish coloration enables them to blend in very well with those dried cattail stems.  Only the movement of that red forehead gives them away.

Sandhill Cranes-feeding in wetlands at Carlos Avery WMA, MN

Every now and then a few cranes would start jumping around at and on each other, but they were mostly quietly feeding and preening all morning.

But the best was yet to come.  We had a very close encounter with a pair of cranes that we spied crossing the road in front of us.  As we drove up opposite them within about 25 feet, they began to pace and call (very loudly), most likely protesting our presence.

Sandhill Cranes-pair calling-

Finally, they stood still long enough for me to get a decent photo of them — really up close and personal.  The minute we drove off, they quieted down.  Getting this close to these magnificent and very large birds was a real treat.

10 thoughts on “A Crane-derful morning

  1. Wow, Sue, those shots are spectaular. It’s great that you were able to get both action shots as well as close-ups. This is definitely a bird that I would love to see, but am pretty sure that I would have to travel quite a ways to do so.

    • This definitely made my month as a fantastic photo shoot. Mike, if you ever want to treat yourself to an incredible birding experience, make a trip to the bird blinds at Kearney, Nebraska during the Sandhill Crane migration (March-April). You have to reserve a space in advance,but the experience will amaze you, and of course the photo ops are incredible.

    • Funny you should mention that Kathy. I had a friend in graduate school who was unusually successful at getting some of the rare crane species to breed in captivity — because he danced with them!!

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