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.