Sandhill Cranes

This gallery contains 4 photos. My first encounter with a family of (Greater) Sandhill Cranes happened when the second colt (or chick) hatched on our visit to the Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary on May 26. Even one of the largest bird species in North America starts life as small and vulnerable creatures, although Sandhill Crane colts are born precocial; they are covered in [orange] down, and are able to see, move around, and swim within a few hours of hatching.

WHSIM_Sandhill_Crane_Father_and_Colt.jpg
a long-distance shot of father and older chick foraging for food on their island nest
f/10, 1/200, 500mm, ISO 500 

Both parents are the long-term resident Sandhill Crane pair at Reifel (gangs of unattached “bachelor”) cranes do visit throughout the year). Parenthood is a shared affair; the father tends to the older chick, while the mother takes care of the younger. Photographed on May 26. Last year, no chicks were produced by this pair (the eggs were predated on, most likely by mink, river otter, or other local predators).

WHSIM_Sandhill_Crane_Mother_and_Colts.jpg
a long-distance shot of mother, older chick (top), and newly hatched chick (bottom)
f/10, 1/200, 500mm, ISO 500 

As is common (and may come as a shock to many of us), fratricide is common in Sandhill Cranes — if food is scarce, the stronger chick may drive off (and ultimately, be responsible for the death of) the weaker one. This has been the case with the hatchlings of this particular resident pair for the past 5-6 years, and sadly, appeared to be the case with this younger colt, which did not survive past its first day. It seems cruel, and yet is a reflection of nature’s maxim: survival of the fittest.

WHSIM_Sandhill_Crane_Family.jpg
1-month old colt foraging with parents near one of many ponds at Reifel
f/7.1, 1/250, 150mm, ISO 100 

Although mom and dad can put up a formidable defense against potential predators, thanks to their long, sharp bills and powerful legs, losses still can happen in the first month of its life (this was the only hatchling to make it to that important milestone in Metro Vancouver in 2016; both colts at Minnekhada Park did not survive past their first few weeks). Photographed on June 21.

WHSIM_Sandhill_Crane_Colt_1-Month.jpg
this growing colt will spend the next 8 months with mom and dad before leaving the nest
f/6.3, 1/400, 500mm, ISO 500 

Learn more about Sandhill Cranes here.

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36 thoughts on “Sandhill Cranes

    • thank you, Sally! glad to see that there is at least one new colt for the year in Metro Vancouver. it’s incredible to learn about the odds they face, even after hatching.

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    • thank you! this spring and summer, I have been fortunate to see birds of several species bringing the next generation into being, both in my backyard and near by. in some (many) instances, that means a little less fruit for us to eat, but it’s worth it! 🙂

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  1. Awww. Your pictures are just precious! It’s difficult at times to accept the concept of survival of the fittest, but I have observed that, for example, a lone Osprey chick is better prepared for the challenges of the first year on their own (survival odds 50-60%) than if they are in a brood of two or three fledglings.

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    • thank you, Tiny! it is definitely difficult for me to accept that concept, even if it works to ensure that the strongest do survive. I am reminded of David Attenborough’s Life Story wherein one of the segments focused on Barnacle Geese goslings, who must dive some 300-400 feet from their cliff nest just a few days after hatching to find food. if they aren’t killed by impact with sharp rocks on this base jump, or snagged and eaten by predators, they may live to see another day.

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