Our resident male Sandhill Crane
of the current resident female crane.
Male tending the 2011 nest
crane with two-day old chick 2010.
Fall gatherings of cranes
|Sandhill Cranes at the
Sandhill cranes are very tall wading birds
with a wingspan of close to 2 meters. The
nearest species in size and shape is the
Great Blue Heron. Although they are similar,
the two species can be told apart by head
colouring and posture. Sandhill Cranes
have a red patch of
unfeathered skin on their forehead and a
generally grey body. During the breeding
season, cranes dab mud on their feathers
and are often stained a rusty colour on
their bodies as a result.
There are fossil
remains dating back 2.5 million years ago
identical to modern sandhills of today.
They are named after their representative
sandhills of Nebraska, where over 500,000
cranes congregate during migration. This
is the largest sand dune formation in the
western hemisphere, consisting of more
than 50,000 hectares of rangeland and
native prairie vegetation covering sand
deposits drifted from the past ice age.
It is dotted with hundreds of small wetlands,
and the underlying Ogalla
Aquifer provides water for 20% of the irrigated
land in the USA.
In Canada, the greater majority of cranes
migrate through the central prairies and
winter in the southern states. In BC, cranes
pass through the
central interior, migrating between
wintering areas in Texas and nesting areas in the bogs and marshes of Alaska
and the Yukon. Along
the coast, migrant cranes pass over Vancouver
Island and the Queen Charlottes. In the Lower Mainland, we see small migrant
crane flocks during the fall and winter
stopping for brief visits to the Sanctuary
or nearby fields of the Fraser River Delta.
When it comes to nesting, cranes are selective
and need very large territories (up to 100
hectares) in large open wetlands.
In the Lower Mainland, this species has generally chosen
the wilder peatlands of the Pitt Valley, Douglas Island,
Derby Reach , Burns Bog, and parts of Richmond.
There have been cranes here for over 30 years. Two "imprinted" cranes
were brought here after being hatched in captivity and bonding
to people instead of their own kind. Neither of these initial
cranes nested successfully and they have long since died,
but they did manage to attract wild cranes to the place.
A wild male crane joined one of these birds in 1992 and eventually
brought its own mate to the Sanctuary and took up year-round
residency, nesting sucessfully in 2000. Sandhill
Cranes are very protective of nest sites, their mate and
young, and can attack visitors if a threat is perceived.
It is sometimes necessary to close trails during the nesting
season for the safety of visitors and the crane family.
Please respect all signs and barriers related to these birds.
Sandhill Cranes keep their young with them until the following
spring. The young cranes or "colts"
have provided Sanctuary visitors with endless entertainment
as they learn how to feed, fly, find shelter during winter
weather and mimic the courtship dance and calls of the parent
birds. By the time they are 2 months old, crane chicks are
able to fly. By the time they are 10 or 11 months old, they
are off on their own away from their parents. For the next
couple of years, they will join groups of other non-breeding
cranes, and when they reach maturity at 3 to 5 years of age,
they are ready to mate and nest.
Other cranes congregate
here from late summer to early winter during
the non-breeding season. By
November, numbers generally drop to just
our resident pair plus a select small group
of visiting birds (less than 10 usually)
that then spend the winter together. In
the spring our pair chases out all other
cranes, including their own young from the
previous year, and defend the 300 hectare
Sanctuary as their territory.
Identifying Individual Cranes- an update as of May16th, 2014.
For those of you who enjoy watching the cranes on regular visits,
here are a few clues to help you recognize
some of the individual birds. If there are just
two birds (or in the next few months, two birds and a tiny chick), there is a very high probability you are looking at
our resident pair. They currently have a very small new young with them at all times, and visitors should not approach this family unit. There is a gang of four additional non-breeding Sandhill Cranes born 2010, 2011 and 2012 from either our pair or the pair that nests in Richmond. None of them are mature enough to nest
yet, but they spend endless hours practicing courtship dances and are regularly chased around by our resident pair.
For most of the winter, we also had the visiting family from Richmond, consisting of two adults and two 2013 chicks or "colts", plus a bird released here by Wildlife Rescue Association in early November.
Although we can tell most of them apart most of the time, very few of the cranes are marked for positive identification,
with the exception of the birds below.
The male bird of our resident pair has very little of
the white "mask" on its face, and has been at the
Sanctuary since 1992 and tried to pair with an imprinted crane for a few years. This bird is fairly aggressive during
nesting season. This bird is not banded. His first successful
Sanctuary nesting was with a wild female bird in 2000. The
latter died in 2006 and in 2007, he began nesting with a
second wild female. This bird is the most likel to be aggressive to people and other cranes from March on through their nesting season.
This is one of the visiting non-breeding birds which have
been present since the 2012 nesting season and is part of the wintering group. Our resident
male has tried to chase this bird and its gang of young cranes away every summer. This particular non-breeding
bird has remarkably-similar facial colouration to our resident
male, possibly being the Sanctuary's 2010 chick, now mature
and likely to nest in the next year or so.
This female crane is a research bird banded and
fitted with a satellite transmitter in 2008. The technology
showed that it wintered in Sacramento California several
winters and probably still does now. It summers in the Fraser
delta, but has not yet been seen nesting or consistently
paired. In the fall of 2011, it kept company with a pair
and their two colts. We think this family is the pair
nesting in Richmond. "Satellite Bird" might be
one of their colts born prior to 2008. Note the orange and
blue plastic and one metal band on one leg and a blue battery
pack and antennae on the other leg. It usually leaves in the fall (2011, 2012 and 2013) with migrant flocks but we expect to see it sometime
this upcoming spring again briefly, then again in the fall gathering.
A bird was banded at the David Hancock Wildlife Center
in South Surrey in May 2011. We suspect this was a young
bird that spent the 2010/11 winter visiting the Sanctuary
with its parents, as our resident pair had three
extra birds with them for the winter.
The visiting family may have been the Richmond group (see above).
This bird was chased out of the Sanctuary by our pair and
ended up over in South Surrey to be captured at the wildlife
center in 2011. It has a metal band on one leg and small
narrow black plastic band on the other leg. A feather sample
was taken when it was banded, and we know from the DNA analysis
that this a male bird. It has been seen here several times over the past few years, often associating with Satellite bird (above) during fall gatherings.
A young crane rescued near Merville, Vancouver Island
in late October 2011 by Mountainaire Avian Rescue.
This bird seemed to have lost its flock during migration,
so it was banded by the Canadian Wildlife Service and then
colour-marked and released at the Sanctuary amid some wild
cranes October 27th, 2011. It has not been spotted recently
but is a small younger bird with two colour bands (yellow
and orange) on one leg and a metal band on the other leg.