Sandhill cranes are one of the all-time joys of my winter. A large bird that moves with strength and elegance, they forage and roost here every winter in large migrating flocks of “survival groups.”
After 22 consecutive winters of circling back roads and rice fields in the Sacramento Delta, I can tell you one thing: every winter is different. Sometimes it is super foggy and you can only hear the cranes. More recently with our milder winters and sunshine we can often spot large flocks of them dotting the landscape. The quantity of migrating cranes, their roosting grounds and daily activities, all vary depending on the weather, the fields, and the resources.
Grus canadensis have several subspecies which vary in size and color. We see the lesser and greater sandhill cranes which are about 4 feet tall, partaking in the grains of the flooded rice fields. With a wingspan of over 7 feet, they migrate down from Canada every year by the thousands. This year we counted over one thousand cranes in a weekend. Having spent the winter months here, soon they will head back to Canada to breed.
They gobble, sort of like a turkey only softer, and sometimes I’m so happy to see them that I gobble back.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander