On Easter Sunday, as I stood waving goodbye to my cousin Jennifer from my front porch, I heard a noise in the distance. It got louder and louder, until I could make out the rolling call of a Sandhill Crane. I was thrilled, & ran back in the house to get my camera in case they came close enough for a picture. I absolutely love listening to the Sandhill's warble and occasionally, we're treated to a visit from a few who must have detoured from the flock's migration path. This year ... was different. I went back to the porch, & stepped into something out of Hitchcock's 'The Birds'. Hundreds of the big birds were making their way across the sky to land in our irrigated corn field.
(A great big thanks to Uncle Gerry & Aunt Marlys for sharing all the incredible pictures! Make sure click & enlarge them to see the detail.) Incoming!
And they seem darn content just to stay there for the time being See how they're all lined up? They're feeding on the corn left in the rows from harvest!
Which leads me to a quick little tutorial about how this all fits into agriculture. We grew corn on the irrigation. It's a good rotational crop, and gives the soil a break from wheat or alfalfa. It's important to have different crops giving different nutrients to the soil. Rotating crops also breaks the cycle of disease that can take hold when the same crop is grown back to back to back. So we grew corn. Then we harvested the corn, which over the winter, has been ground into feed for cows (along with peas and wheat) that are finished and sold to local consumers. The cows were also allowed to fall graze the field. It gives them an extra feed source when the summer grasses are dying. And it helps clean up the field for seeding the next Spring. And now....
We're feeding the birds! Creating habitat for a really huge flock of migrating Sandhill Cranes! I suspect they like that there's a water source close by as well. (See the ducks on the river outlet behind the pivot?)
On the ground they're a little more awkward. These two were jumping around.. like gawky teenagers trying to get one foot in front of the other. Which is appropriate, because their gangly show is actually a mating display.
They're surprisingly graceful in flight for as big as they are. A quick Google told me they can stand up to 4 feet tall and weigh as much as 10 pounds!
But they could stand for what seemed like a crazy long time on just one leg. Alternating to keep them warm I suspect.
They're undeniably beautiful though. See the red on their beak, tail feathers & legs?
Today is Tuesday, and they're still hanging around, although with warmer weather coming in the next few days, it's likely they'll resume their migration to their final destination in Canada or Alaska. We're already hoping we'll see them on their return migration this fall, and that our little corn field will become a regular stop on their annual trek. Which has us wondering how we can break up the irrigation to make sure we have corn there every season. If we build it, ... will they come?