Tag Archives: migration

10 Things You May Not Know about Sandhill Cranes

scranes-4The call of a sandhill crane is unmistakable, and to those familiar with the bird, it seems to stir something deep in one’s soul. When thousands or millions are present–WOW, this is an amazing spectacle!

Last spring my husband and I spent a few days in Nebraska witnessing the annual migration of the sandhill cranes. For one night we slept in a tiny photography blind–6 feet long, by 5 feet tall by 6 feet wide–and got to see thousands of cranes fly into the river at sunset and then out again at sunrise. It was a unique experience for sure and definitely not for everyone! (No floor or heat, you are forbidden to leave the blind for fear of spooking the birds, and no bathroom –just a 5 gallon bucket!) The birds roost in the shallow water and on the sandbars in the river.

One of the photo blinds along the Platte River

One of the photo blinds along the Platte River

Let’s learn some things about this awesome bird!

1.Sandhill cranes are the most common and wide ranging of 15 species of cranes in the world. Of the 15, 6 are considered endangered.

2. Cranes are one of the oldest living birds on Earth; fossil record found in Nebraska indicate they have been around for 10 MILLION YEARS! To me, this is the most astonishing fact of them all! What a successful bird with a long history.

Herons like this great blue, fly with their necks in an S-shape

Herons like this great blue, fly with their necks in an S-shape

3. Many people use the term heron and crane interchangeably, but this is not correct. True, both have long legs, long necks, long bills, and a big wingspan–up to 6 feet!– but they are actually only distantly related. Some differences are: cranes live longer–10-20 years rather than herons who live 5-7 years, cranes usually lay only 2 eggs while herons lay 4-7 and cranes fly with their necks straight while herons curl theirs up in flight.

Sunset at the Platte River in Nebraska

Sunset at the Platte River in Nebraska

4. 80% of North America’s sandhill cranes use a 75 mile section of the Platte River in Nebraska during spring migration, in March and early April. At the peak, there could be half a million sandhill cranes there! This is one of the most amazing wildlife spectacles on Earth! After leaving Nebraska the birds head north to their breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska.Druing migration they may fly 400-500 miles in one day, usually at an altitude of around 6000-7000 feet, though it is not unusual to see them at 13,000 feet in areas such as the Rocky Mountains.

scranes-91505. The habitat of sandhill cranes is fields, prairie, marshes and tundra. They nest around marshes and bogs, creating their nests right on the ground. Both sexes help build the nest, which is a mound of plant material pulled up from around the site.

6. Most of the time female sandhill cranes lay 2 eggs. Sometimes they might lay only one and in rare instances, they may lay 3. If more than one is laid, it is not unusual for only one to survive. And many will not make it through their first year of life.

7. Both parents incubate the eggs for 29-32 days, though this is not exactly a 50-50 split of duties. Females have night duty and also spend part of the day on the nest.

Sandhill cranes on the Platte River

Sandhill cranes on the Platte River

8. The young cranes, called colts, are able to leave the nest hours after hatching. This is called precocial and many ground-nesting birds do this so they can be less vulnerable to predators like foxes and coyotes. Precocial birds hatch with down feathers, open eyes and the ability to leave the nest within hours of hatching. Colts will make their first flight when they are between 65-75 days old. They will accompany their parents during fall migration and stay with them for about 10 months before striking out on their own.

In flightLanding in a corn fieldColts fly with their parentsSandhill CranesMany cranes migrating northSandhill CranesSunrise on the Platte RiverThe photography blind I stayed inVery roomy! (NOT)An immature bald eagle lands in the riverFlocks in the skyFlying in to the riverCranes will roost on the sandbarsLeaving for the dayStarting to gather on the riverHanging out with the animals in the fieldsSandhill cranes in the corn fieldsTwo cranesComing in for a landing!Putting down # Typical daytime habitat in NebraskaSo very high in the sky!
9. In addition to their recognizable call and long migrations, sandhill cranes are known for their mating dance. The two sexes face each other and spontaneously leap into the air while arching their necks and opening their wings. Adults mate for life though they don’t do so for the first time until they are 4 or 5 years old. And they will find a new mate if theirs dies. And interestingly, young cranes don’t just inherit the ability to dance, they must be taught by their parents!

10. Sandhill cranes are omnivores. They eat a wide variety of material including seeds, grains, insects, snails, tubers,crayfish, frogs, lizards, eggs, and even small rodents or snakes.


So, did you learn anything? Have you witnessed these amazing birds on their fall or spring migration? Do you have anything you’d like to add? If so, feel free to use the comment box below–I always want to hear from you!

Posted in Animals, Birds, Ten Things, Weekly Creature Feature | Also tagged , Comments Off on 10 Things You May Not Know about Sandhill Cranes

Weekly Puzzler Answer #129

Did you know last week’s puzzler? Are you lucky enough to live where this bird does, or perhaps you’ve seen it traveling over, in fall or spring during their migration.

A sandhill crane lands in a field

A sandhill crane lands in a field

It’s a sandhill crane! If you’ve been following my blog for very long you might remember me talking about a trip I took last spring to Nebraska to see MILLIONS of them migrating. I wrote a post featuring a video of sandhill cranes coming to roost on the Platte River.  This was another amazing experience I got to cross off of my “Bucket List” and share with my amazing husband. Anyone who likes birds should add this to their Bucket List–it is a sight to see.

Sandhill cranes are a striking bird, standing on long legs, just under 4 feet tall, with an impressive wingspan of 6.5 feet! Seeing millions, or even thousands in the sky above is a pretty impressive event. Have you witnessed this?

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Do you know much about these attractive birds? Do you know where they live or why so many are in Nebraska each year, twice– in the spring and then again in the fall? Do you know how long they live or how long the young cranes remain with the adults? Do you know what’s special about their mating ritual?

Check back next week as they will be the Creature Feature. Have a great weekend! Check out the NEXT PUZZLER!

A poem from the walls of the Rowe Sanctuary on the Platte River in Nebraska.

A poem from the walls of the Rowe Sanctuary on the Platte River in Nebraska.

Posted in Animals, Birds, Weekly Puzzler | Also tagged , , , Comments Off on Weekly Puzzler Answer #129

Have you Noticed?

deer-2-2If you’ve been feeding the hummingbirds this summer and you still have nectar out, you might have noticed lately an absence of males. Male ruby-throated hummingbirds can easily be distinguished from females by their brilliant red gorget (neck), especially lovely when the sunlight hits it just right.

In the fall, the males leave before the females, heading to Mexico where they will spend the winter. Females along with immature hummers stay around later. Have you noticed the immature males? deer-2Sometimes they have a few red feathers in their gorget, sometimes what looks like a “five o’clock shadow.” Males won’t get their complete red gorgets until after their first migration. So when our birds return in the spring, the males who were born this summer will be sporting a new red gorget.

Where I live in western North Carolina, the males have been gone now for about a week. Depending on where you live, you might be still seeing them, or they might also be gone.

It’s good to keep your feeders out, even after you first notice they are gone because you can help the birds migrating. Birds heading south already will need to eat and may stop off at YOUR feeder on their long journey.

Want to know more about hummingbirds? Click HERE for ten things you may not know or HERE to learn about their migrations. They are such fascinating birds, I think it is always fun to see, and to help them.

Enjoy your day!

Posted in Animals, Birds, Just for Fun, Nature NOW | Also tagged , , Comments Off on Have you Noticed?

Hummingbirds Get Crazy!

hbird-0948If you have hummingbird feeders you probably have noticed they have been getting a little crazy lately, zipping around wildly, chasing each other aggressively as try to gain control of the best nectar sources. Why on earth are they doing this! Can’t they just share?

Ruby Throated Hummingbirds migrate to Mexico in the fall, traveling more than 450 miles across the open water of the Gulf of Mexico. To prepare for such a long journey, fraught with all kinds of challenges, they must fatten up. At this time of year they are hyperphagia–eating almost constantly to put on weight, many nearly doubling their mass in preparation. A male weighing 3 grams during the summer may put on 2 -2.5 grams.

Imagine these tiny birds traveling over open water, sometimes with headwinds as hard as 20mph! It might take them 20 hours to make this journey. Certainly it is easy to understand, given this incredible migration, why so many do not make it.


Recently I watched them outside of my office window, counting 6 around my suction-cup feeder at one time! I filmed for a minute, watching as they zipped by at impossible speeds. The photo above shows two drinking while a third one tries to figure out how to get nectar from the feeder! He seemed baffled, and kept tasting the water in the moat before he was run off by one of the other immature males.

Such fun they are to watch! Enjoy the video… at one point there will be two on the feeder and you can count at least 3 or possibly 4 in the background.

Are your hummingbirds this crazy yet??

If you want to read more about hummingbirds, here are 10 things you may not know,  a Weekly Puzzler about hummingbirds, and a post about their incredible migration. Also, if you are still filling your hummingbird feeders with RED NECTAR, click HERE to learn why this is a terrible idea! Oh, and here’s one more video–in case you’ve never seen a male with his iridescent red gorget. Happy reading!

If you want to buy this feeder, check it out here!

Posted in Animals, Birds, Just for Fun, Nature NOW | Also tagged , , , , 1 Comment

Weekly Puzzler #55

birdd-0094Woo hoo, the ruby-throated hummingbirds have returned!!!

I spotted a male this morning, stopping at my feeder for a long drink.  Seeing them for the first time each spring makes my heart smile, knowing they have traveled so long to get here and have had to overcome numerous challenges. For me it’s like when I see an old friend and want to pull her/him into an embrace and say, “Wow, it’s so great to see you!” (Read more about their MIGRATION here.)

So I HAD to share this, just as I feel compelled to use them as my weekly puzzler. (Here’s a past PUZZLER that featured a hummingbird)

The question for this week then is how many FEATHERS does a Ruby-throated Hummingbird have? Check back next Saturday to learn the answer!

And if you live in NC or places south, start looking–maybe you will see one today too! If you do, I’d love to know. If you want to learn more about these amazing birds, Click HERE or HERE.

HAPPY SATURDAY and Happy Easter.

Posted in Animals, Birds, Encounters of the Furred Kind, For My Soul, Nature NOW, Weekly Puzzler | Also tagged , , , , 1 Comment

If You Love Hummingbirds, Do This Soon!

Greetings Friends,

bird-0094It’s almost that time of year again when the windows will be open and you’ll hear the familiar buzzing sounds of the ruby-throated hummingbirds dashing around. If you live south of North Carolina, they are likely already back from their migration, and hungry from their long journeys. Here in western North Carolina, the hummingbirds should be arriving in the next couple of weeks, (in 2013 they arrived on April 8th and then in 2014, on April 16th) first the males and then the females a short while later.

If you want to watch their progress as they migrate NORTH, check out this MAP detailing their 2015 status–it’s an awesome way to know where they are RIGHT NOW and when you can expect them in your neck of the woods. If you are like me, seeing the first one in the spring is a true joy; It truly makes my heart smile.

No matter where you live, dust off your hummingbird feeders and make up some fresh nectar! It’s that time of year again!

It is much better to have your feeders out too early than too late. If the hummingbirds arrive back and find suitable nectar sources, including feeders, they are more likely to stop and choose a nesting place, rather than fly on to someplace else.

The best feeders are the kind that come apart for easy cleaning. If your feeder doesn’t do this, consider replacing it. During the hot months of the summer, mold can take hold quickly and be harmful to the little birds so regularly cleaning the feeders is essential. A good rule of thumb is If you’re not willing to clean the feeders regularly, please don’t put them out! bird-9289

Also, contrary to what perky pet and some others will tell you, YOU DO NOT NEED red food coloring or the RED DYE they sell in stores. Some scientists believe this could actually be harming the birds and seeing as how the red dye is COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY, it seems a foolish risk to take. Please don’t support this product! (Read more about this HERE.)

Instead, make up your own nectar. It is easy and cheap and takes about 5 minutes. Simply add 1 cup of regular-old-ordinary-white sugar to 4 cups of water and stir. I use hot water from the tap, mixing the sugar until it has dissolved. I then put it in a pitcher and store it in the fridge until I need it.

This is an ant moat, sold in many stores that sell bird feeders. It will keep the ants from getting to your nectar.

The red thing beside the hummer is an ant moat, sold in many stores that sell bird feeders. It will keep the ants from getting to your nectar.

I’d love to hear from you about what date you saw your first hummingbird arrive this spring! Please use the comment box below, or send me a email. It would be fun to do a subsequent post sharing this information with all of my subscribers.

If you want to read more about hummingbirds, including how fast they beat their wings, where they go each winter and how rapidly their tiny hearts beat, CLICK HERE.  Or, check out Weekly Puzzler #14 that featured a question about a hummingbird.

Happy Day!


Posted in Animals, Birds, Call to Action!, Nature NOW | Also tagged , , 1 Comment

What Makes This Insect Amazing and Why it’s inTrouble

I recently spent a beautiful blue-sky day paddling on the French Broad River. (Click HERE to see some pictures of this trip) In my mind, little could be more satisfying than sitting in my kayak on a glorious fall day, a confetti of colorful leaves spilling from the sky with every gentle blow of the wind. The river became a perfect mirror, reflecting the trees dressed in their autumn splendor. Wow, what a way to spend the day! I hope you too schedule some “outside time” soon.

Looking up at the leaves falling from the heavens, I started seeing the occasional Monarch Butterfly fluttering by and as always, felt a rush of amazement and wonder at these small creatures.

A monarch over the French Broad River

A monarch over the French Broad River

It truly makes my heart smile to see them and having been on a 2000+ mile journey myself (thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail), I empathize with their challenges. After four or five caught my eye, I began counting them, wondering how many I might see during my ten mile journey on the river. Two years ago when I was with a group of 5th graders in Dupont State Park in the fall, in our four hours together we counted 114 Monarch Butterflies decorating the sky. Would I see that many? Several hours later, with my count just above a dozen, I knew the answer: no, I would not see that many. That got me wondering about the status of the Monarch Butterflies this year. How many would show up in Mexico? Could their numbers recover?amonarch-3381

You may or may not know this but Monarch Butterflies are in serious trouble. Do you know about them and where they go for the winter?  Have you heard about their decline? Do you know what makes this insect so amazing?

Every year all the monarchs in North America that live east of the continental divide (those that live west of the Colorado will head west to the Pacific Grove of southern California where they will overwinter on eucalyptus trees) will head south to spend the winter in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico, a distance for some of 2500 miles! Imagine such a fragile-looking creature overcoming the wind, weather and all the other obstacles to make it this incredible distance.

The monarchs may travel as much as 100 miles in a single day, joining millions of other monarchs who have made the journey.

Look at all of those butterflies!

Look at all of those butterflies!

Together, these amazing insects will gather on the branches of Oyamel fir trees, waiting until March when warmer weather arrives. Then they will turn around and head north, back towards the places they came from. (Years ago I traveled to Mexico to SEE THIS! )

The most amazing part of the monarch story is that those traveling south have never been there before, yet somehow manage to locate the exact trees that all those Monarchs from previous generations have used. How they manage this is still a mystery. They have never been there and will never be there again, but yet successive Monarch populations continue to make this journey, just as they have for thousands of years.

Last year Mexico recorded the lowest numbers ever of Monarch Butterflies, with an estimated 33 million rather than the 1 BILLION that were present in 1996. 

Usually covering an average of 17 acres, last year the butterflies were found in just 1.65 acres, down from 3 acres the previous year. That’s a decline of nearly 90%. So what is the reason for this drastic decline? As is true of most things in nature, the answer is a combination of factors, starting with a drought in the summer of 2012, followed by extreme cold temperatures in the spring and then a summer of unproductive breeding. Add to all of that an increase in genetically modified crops and in herbicides on those crops.

The Monarchs in Mexico overwinter on tree branches

The Monarchs in Mexico overwinter on tree branches

A field of Milkweed is like GOLD to a Monarch.

A field of Milkweed is like GOLD to a Monarch.

Milkweed, unlike the GMO’s, cannot survive these herbicides and is being eradicated from corn and soybean cropland across North America. In addition, there is less wild land where Milkweed might have flourished in the past and people, many whom hear the word WEED in the plant’s name, and take steps to get rid of it in their yards. Unfortunately for the Monarch Butterfly’s caterpillar, the ONLY thing they eat is Milkweed. There are over 100 species of Milkweed in the United States, though only a handful of those are native. Monarchs thankfully cannot tell the difference and will use any type of Milkweed. But not if it’s not available.

A Monarch caterpillar feeds ONLY on Milkweed

A Monarch caterpillar feeds ONLY on Milkweed

We will have to wait and see what happens to the numbers of Monarchs this winter. Hopefully they can rebound for it would be a great tragedy to lose this amazing creature. If you’d like to learn what you can do to help,CLICK HERE.

Posted in Animals, Insects, Spiders and other Invertebrates | Also tagged , , , , 2 Comments