My husband and I have found a new love. Before you start thinking, “hmm, they do live in Utah, home to Big Love, Sister Wives, and Polygamy Porter”, let me explain. We live on a nature preserve in Park City which, in the Spring, is home to Greater Sandhill Cranes. Greater Sandhill Cranes are very large, prehistoric looking birds (Lesser Sandhill Cranes, are, you guessed it, their smaller cousins).
At first this particular pair of cranes would wake us up at 6am with their insanely loud honking and drive us crazy. Lately, they’ve been sleeping in and calling to each other after 7:30am – a much more civilized hour. Apparently, mated pairs of cranes engage in “unison calling.” This means the cranes stand facing each other and call out in a in a synchronized and complex duet. The female makes two calls for every single call of the male. And, wow, is it loud. Best alarm clock we’ve ever had.
After we got used to their honking, we fell in love with the cranes. We go to the balcony every morning to see where they are. We point them out to our daughter who calls them coocoos. I send texts to my co-host on This Green Earth Nell who works at the Swaner Eco-Center telling her to look out her window at the cranes. They’re always there, so I think she’s a little concerned about my newfound crane obsession.
Yesterday, we were actually worried when they didn’t make a peep during the 10 inches of snow we received overnight. Instead, they were huddled near the water looking mighty cold. “Do birds feel the cold?” we wondered. “Where do they go when it snows?” “Why don’t they stay in the warmer climates year round?” “Don’t they think the whole migration thing is a lot of work for not much reward?” The cranes have raised a lot of questions.
Sandhill cranes make an intimidating whooshing sound when they fly, which makes sense, as their wingspan is 78 inches. They are almost 50 inches tall and while they don’t weigh a lot, at around 15 pounds, they are big birds. They are omnivorous, eating insects and plants, but they have been known to damage crops making them the enemy of many farmers. The cranes aren’t endangered, though certain species suffered a rapid decline over the past decades. The Greater Sandhill Cranes are now experiencing a comeback due to habitat (wetlands and plains) preservation, restoration and cooperation by farmers.
If you’d like to hear them, or learn more, The International Crane Foundation has a great website with audio files and pictures. http://www.savingcranes.org/sandhill-crane.html. There are also great pictures of the cranes near our house on the Swaner Eco-Center website www.swanerecocenter.org.