Thursday, April 11, 2019
DANCING SANDHILL CRANES RETURN
I’d heard them fly over with their distinctive bugling call. I’d also seen a few from afar as I combed the countryside for photo ops.
But I’d not seen any Sandhill Cranes up close until a pair flew inside this fenced farmyard. These large wading birds mate for life and it's always fun to watch the interactions between them. I noticed their feathers were heavily stained reddish-brown caused by their preening with mud from iron-rich environments.
After reaching their breeding grounds, Sandhill Cranes typically begin their mating process. One part of this pair-bonding occurs when the birds perform dancing displays. I’d hoped that would happen with this pair and I didn’t have to wait long for it to begin. The male crane threw his huge wings into the air as the female largely ignored him.
While the dancing is most common during the breeding season, cranes actually dance all year long. Here the male twists, jumps into the air, and continues to flap his wings.
Levitating at least a foot off the ground, the crane vocalizes as he dances. I can only watch in amazement!
The male finally lands, his back feathers still ruffled, while the female continues to show no response. I wonder what that means? I’ve seen other pair bonds both involved in the dancing and vocalizing their duet call, so I’m unsure why she’s unresponsive. Perhaps, she’s not ready yet to mate, in the sense of being fertile.
The male ended his elaborate dance by passing his mate and bowing majestically. I was in awe at the display but was left with questions that sent me digging for answers. I found them at Christy Yuncker’s online Photo Journal. She stated that “males are generally more dashing and females more reserved.” She further defined the dance steps of Sandhill Cranes. She said, “When a crane dances solo, the behavior reflects its emotional arousal. When crane pairs dance, they announce and reciprocate emotions.”
As the pair faced each other, I found meaning in another point Yuncker made in her journal. “The courtship dances of mated pairs promote hormonal changes that hasten reproductive maturation.” So my take that the female wasn’t ready to mate yet doesn’t seem so far off. I hope to follow this beautiful pair as they move to the next stage of courtship.