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Sandhill Cranes Head South
A moment of joy and amazement
“Listen,” Mary whispers from our canoe's bow as she stops paddling. In the stern, I pull my paddle up mid-stroke and watch drops fall from the paddle into the lake. Then I hear it, the raucous, rough, prehistoric calling of a flock of sandhill cranes in flight. I search the sky, find them, and stare with joy and amazement as the dozen birds soar overhead and form a perfect V that points south. “Wow,” I whisper.
It’s early September. Mary and I have travelled south from our home near Yellowstone to Grand Teton National Park to canoe on Jackson Lake. The sandhills pass over us on their southward migration. Their six and a half foot wingspans propel them to winter homes in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, or northern Mexico. Their journey will take three months; they’ll arrive by December.
As I watch them disappear in the distance, I’m reminded that summer fades and canoeing days will soon end.
These big noisy birds have been in Yellowstone since spring. When we watch them in the park, they’re in pairs or families since they fly to Yellowstone to breed and give birth. Some of the cranes choose their mate as they migrate north. Others are with a mate they chose years ago; sandhill cranes form long-term pairs and can live 20 or more years in the wild.
Now, as they migrate south over quiet Jackson Lake, their young, born just months ago, travel with them. Though a female will give birth to two young called colts, only one usually survives long enough to fly south with mom and dad. The youngster will stay with the parents for nine to ten months.
Early next year, the sandhill cranes will leave their winter home and head north again. Their noisy arrival in Yellowstone will be part of the joy of spring’s return after a long, cold winter.
Sitting in the canoe, I silently wish these sandhill cranes a safe migration, a warm winter, and a productive return. I look forward to seeing them again—especially from this canoe.
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I write, speak, and photograph to protect wildlife and preserve wild lands. My bestselling In the Temple of Wolves; its sequel, Deep into Yellowstone; and its prequel, The Wilds of Aging are available signed. My books are also available on Amazon unsigned or as eBook or audiobook.
Photo Credits: Photos by Rick Lamplugh
Are you interested in learning about wolf-human history? If so, please check out my blog. I am writing a multi-part series that begins with how we once may have partnered with wolves before beginning to fear and dislike them.