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Gardening For Wildlife #38 A visit with Sandhill Cranes
October 15, 2007

A blessed week to you.

One day I'm swimming in the big lake and two days later it didn't reach 50 degrees.

Yes, Autumn has finally hit the Great Lakes region.

Feeder action has hit a lull in my yard.

The cardinals aren't visiting as much and the goldfinches have thinned out some.

There are still plenty of house sparrows at times and a few red-winged blackbirds.

What I call my winter birds, nuthatches (both red and white breasted), titmice and several chickadees are now frequent visitors.

I call them my winter birds, because they are more prevalent now through the winter months.

Several white crowned sparrows are still very busy scratching around in the flower beds. I toss some cracked corn for them as well.

White crowned sparrows and several other birds will return to the same spot to feed and rest during migration so I make sure they have a reason to stop.

You may want to do the same thing.

I'm still a very busy boy.

You know..............

Not enough hours in the day to get stuff done.

With the days getting shorter and the fall rains can make it more difficult.

Well, without a killing frost, I am forced to start yanking and digging. I have several fall projects I must attend to.

The need to re-arrange and plant more for wildlife is on top of my list.

Plants need time to get established before the ground freezes here.

This past Saturday was A special first for me.

Karen, Yolanda, Karen's mom and I went to a "Crane Fest".

Something I've wanted to do for years and finally did.

Time was cut short because it was a tad bit cool and crisp for Yolanda and my Mother in law.

Tucked between Marshall and Battle Creek, Michigan is the Audubon's Baker Sanctuary on Big Marsh Lake.
It was more than I imagined it would be.

There are urban and suburban gardens.

There are rural gardens and fancy Arboretums.

Than there is God's wildlife gardens

NATURE at its best.

Meadows, woodlands, wetlands, meadows the lake and of course......

All the native wildlife.

The reason of course was to watch the Sandhill Cranes.

Hundreds upon hundreds of cranes.

Besides cranes, there were Canada geese everywhere.

There were Mallards and a few Wood ducks.

There were even a couple of Great egrets.

Egrets are a bit rare around here, but I have seen them more than once.

Deer, beaver, muskrats, fox, coyote, mink and other wildlife call this area home.

Seeing God's work the way it is meant to be was the icing on the cake.

Embedded in my brain is this picturesque setting.

Water and wetlands are special.

They attract a wide and diverse variety of life.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit a marsh or wetland I urge you to do so.

I would also encourage you to visit staging areas for birds.

A staging area is where a species or several species congregate before they make a mass exodus to their winter home.

It could be Cape May in New Jersey or Point Pelee of Ontario Canada, along Lake Ontario.

The Platte river in Nebraska is well known for the hundreds of thousand of cranes and waterfowl.

Something along the West coast or .......................

A staging ground can be a marshland in Rural Michigan.

Is there a preserve or sanctuary near you?

I've seen a couple of Sandhill cranes before, but watching a few thousand in a couple hour period, I can't find the words to describe.

Well, by now you know that this letter is about Sandhill Cranes.

Scientists call these large birds living dinosaurs. One of the oldest species of birds.

I'm not one that believes in random genetics or a few genes that just happened.

I do believe that all things were created and for us to enjoy.

Here are a few crane facts I borrowed from "Baker Sanctuary"

Proper Name Greater Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis).

Average Size Height: 4 to 5 feet. Wing Span: 6 to 7 feet. Weight: Male, 12 pounds; Female 9 1/2 pounds. The Greater Sandhill Crane is Michigan's tallest bird.

Color Young: brownish and lacking red forehead. Adult: after summer molt, grey feather and red forehead always present.

Note: preening with plants and mud from iron rich waters causes a reddish brown staining of feathers seen most of year.

Similar Looking Bird Great Blue Heron: herons fly with heads tucked back on their shoulders in an “S” Cranes fly with necks extended and have rapid upward wing beats. Cranes always stand on the ground, never in trees.

Voice Trumpeting “garoo-a-a-a” can be heard a mile or more away depending on wind.

Listen to crane calls

Food Wide variety of plants and animals: snails, crayfish, worms, mice. birds. frogs, snakes, insects, acorns, roots, seeds, fruits, occasionally fish, and very fond of waste grains following the harvesting of corn, wheat, barley. etc.

Noteworthy Behavior Dancing: consists of bowing and jumping, into the air. Functions in courtship, sexual synchronization for mating, and release of aggressive energies.

Population Trends
1931 survey of S. Michigan: 17 nesting pairs. 1986-87 survey: 630 nesting pairs in the Lower Peninsula, 175 pairs in the Upper Peninsula, over 200 pairs in Jackson County, and over 8,000 individuals state wide.

Wintering Grounds
Southern Georgia and northern Florida. Midwest and central Canada cranes often winter in Texas, New Mexico and Mexico.

Spring Return
Early March, sometimes late February.

Age at First Nesting
Three years

Nesting Site
Sandhills nest typically in edges and surrounding uplands of shallow marshes, often in cattails.

Nesting Territory
Usually 20 to 200 acres

Nests are 2-3 feet in diameter, 3-5 inches above water level. They are made of vegetation, cattails are common, pulled from nearby the nest site.

Normally 2 eggs are laid, about 4" x 2 1/2" in size. (About twice the size of a jumbo chicken egg.)

Incubation begins in early April. Both sexes share incubation.

Incubation Period
Approximately 30 days

Hatching Time
Typically in early May

Name of Young
The chicks are known as colts in recognition of their well developed legs. They can leave the nest and run within a day of hatching.

First Flight
About 10 weeks after hatching.

Best Season and Time to View Cranes
September to early November, late October is best. Cranes gather each evening in shallow, secluded marshes during migration called staging areas.

In the early morning cranes leave their staging areas to feed in nearby fields. In the mid-afternoon (3-5 p.m.) the cranes start returning to spend the night in the safety of the marsh.

Mornings and early afternoons spent driving roads within five miles of the sanctuaries can sometimes be rewarded with finding large flocks of cranes feeding in farm fields.

We found some of the best sightings were indeed in surrounding fields as scores of Sandhill cranes would graze the recently harvested fields.

Look up, there was always a small flock flying around. Often acting like drunken sailors.

Families will return to the same nesting sight as last year.

Once they have returned, the parents will give junior or missy the boot.

Sandhill cranes will mate for life, but divorce can be quick if reproduction fails.

Where ever you are and whatever you may be doing, find some time to visit Nature as it was intended.

You will be amazed at the life around you.

Gardening for wildlife assists Nature and the rewards can be countless.


It's time to fly for now, but let me give you some friendly advise.

This time of year it is easy to neglect our bird feeders.

Are they in need of repair or replacement?

Maybe they need a good cleaning.

Read about feeders and some cleaning tips.

Okay, before you check the feeders, practice your smile.

Remember that smiles are free yet may be priceless to someone.

Pass the wealth.

Until next time.

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

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Gardening For Wildlife.

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