Sandhill Cranes nest in the boreal forest regions of Alberta, usually in isolated marshy areas surrounded by forest or shrubs. Fortunately, there is still sufficient Sandhill Crane habitat remaining in our west country to support a healthy nesting population.
Three years ago, a pair of Sandhill Cranes nested close to the observation tower at Medicine River Wildlife Centre south of Raven. Several local naturalists watched and photographed two colts hatch over a period of two days. It was a memorable experience.
This year, a pair chose to build their nest in a fairly visible location at the edge of a slough south of Condor. The nest was tucked behind some cattails, making photography and detailed observations challenging. However, it was still a treat to be able to watch them at close range. During the month-long incubation period, the adults took turns sitting motionless on their precious cargo, enduring the extremes of vicious rainstorms and extreme heat. Both sexes incubate, so when one parent was on egg duty, the other could usually be seen standing quietly nearby.
The first colt hatched on Monday, May 31 with the second one arriving on Tuesday evening, June 1. On the morning of June 2, a few of us gathered before daybreak to observe the proceedings. Not much happened until about 6:30 a.m, when the male—who had been watching from afar—sauntered up to the nest. The female stood up as he approached, and the colts could be seen scampering about on the sodden nest. Suddenly, Pa opened his wings and did (what appeared to be) a gleeful leap into the air. Ma followed suit, also leaping into the air with her giant wings flapping. They then settled down to feed the young, delicately offering them bits of eggshell and small pieces of food gleaned from around the nest area.
Suddenly, to our delight and astonishment, both adults lifted their heads to the sky and belted out a hearty duet, a thunderous and joyful avian birth announcement. It was an honour to witness this ancestral ritual, a proclamation that has echoed across swamps for millennia. Two more duets followed between feedings before the proud parents led their rusty little charges off into the swamp. By 7:45 a.m. we had packed up our cameras, offered thanks to the cranes and—with joyful hearts—got on with our day.
Myrna Pearman is a retired biologist and keen nature observer, writer and photographer. She can be reached at email@example.com www.myrnapearman.com.