Sandhill Cranes returned to the farm this last week. They’ve been in the valley for the last couple weeks but had not chosen the western pasture until now. I’m not sure the reason, but they continue to prefer the west pasture to the eastern hay field. Overall, the size of one to the other is not much different. Yet, there are homes to the west and east of the hay field while the pasture has only the home to the east and hop fields to the west. Like other migratory birds it might be that if the choice is between a chance of interaction with humans or coyotes, the decision is weighted toward those who choose to live a more natural life: the coyote. Can’t say I blame them.
With wingspans of six-feet, they begin gliding about a mile out. With ease, they drift in south of the pasture turn north and then settle into the middle of the field. When they pass overhead, often little more than ten to twenty-feet overhead, life is sound and size. You catch breath as air speaks when it shapes itself and slides over body and wings. First one, then the next, and then the next. Their beak tip to tip of feet is similar to wingspan and when their only a few feet overhead, size in unmistakable. When a bird is the size of yourself, but with the ability to fly, I can only be humbled. After all, for all we humans do, for as modern and technological we are, to not have the natural gift of flight is a clear indication we have not “arrived” and have better than a millennium of evolution before we come close to who the sandhill crane is today.
Most disorienting is their accent. Their call might be called trumpet or bugle or honk but only a hearing does it justice. They speak in an ancient warbling voice that does not giveaway location. More often than not when I try to locate a flight who is talking a lot, I am off in both location and distance.
I seldom notice their foreheads in flight, but the moment they are on the ground their red heads standout as much as their spindly legs. That head with beak go to ground quickly after landing. And their search for food seems endless as a few hold back and take on sentry watch. Once one flight lands, the next flight believes safety and lands as well. In minutes, a few flights fill the pasture with hundreds of cranes feeding and moving about.
The length of their stay differs from day to day and week to week. Yet, their migratory arrival is a blessing to land and sky and eye and ear. A natural reminder in equinox’s moment of seasonal coming and going, the birds of the migration, geese and ducks and certainly the sandhill crane, are our relatives who give the benediction.