The Gift of Cranes

Throughout time and across the globe, cranes have symbolized longevity, wisdom, immortality, happiness and good fortune. Here is a gift of cranes as we welcome the new year.

There are 15 species of cranes in the world, all in one family, Gruidae. They fall under three genera; each genera–Antigone, Balearica, Grus–is represented here today (pre-pandemic).

Antigone. The sandhill crane, Antigone canadensis, is one of North America’s two crane species.

While not all cranes are migratory, the sandhill cranes are.

In Northern California we welcome their migrations on the Pacific Flyway every winter.

Cranes are gregarious birds and form large flocks. They have specialized trachea and a big vocabulary, a very vocal bird.

Many cultures associate happiness with the crane, and it is easy to see why when you have witnessed their animated flocks and mating dances.

When they reach breeding age, cranes pair off from the flock. They perform conspicuous dances to attract a mate. Waist-high birds swinging their long legs and flapping their broad wings.

Sometimes just two birds are off on the sidelines jumping and trumpeting, other times one pair starts a chain reaction and several pairs begin to flutter and hop.

They do make you want to kick up your heels and celebrate the joy of life.

This male, below, impressed his mate by repeatedly picking up clumps of dirt and tossing them into the air.

Cranes are monogamous. More info: Cranes Wikipedia.

Although cranes are large birds, they are not always easy to spot because they blend into their environment and have their heads down, foraging.

This is what a field of cranes usually looks like. This field has several hundred cranes in it.

The Sarus crane, photographed below in Australia, is the tallest flying bird in the world, nearly 6 feet (2 m) tall. Antigone antigone. A nonmigratory crane, the Sarus can be found in India, Southeast Asia and Australia.

Cranes are opportunistic feeders and change their diet according to season, location and food availability. They eat both animal and plant matter. We spotted these Sarus cranes on a sweltering day.

Grus. Eight species of cranes are in the Grus genera, including the whooping and wattled cranes shown below.

Some cultures equate cranes to immortality. Whooping cranes, the second of North America’s two crane species, nearly went extinct and were then brought back. That may not be the true definition of immortality, but whooping cranes have done an impressive come-back.

There were once over 10,000 whooping cranes on this continent prior to European settlement. Over-hunting and habitat loss reduced Grus americana to 21 birds in 1941.

Amazingly, today they still join us on this planet. After over half a century of captive breeding and conservation programs, humans have revived the whooping crane population to approximately 800. This bird remains protected on the endangered species list.

A few years ago we visited the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo Wisconsin. It is the only place in the world where all 15 species of cranes can be seen. The Foundation is paramount to world crane conservation.

This first photo is a whooping crane in captivity at the Foundation.

This second photo is a wild pair of whooping cranes we spotted while birding at the Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin. They were tiny even in our binoculars, so Athena photographed them through our spotting scope.

Africa hosts six crane species. We were near the Okavango Delta in Botswana when we came upon a flock of these wattled cranes, Grus carunculata, beside a pond. Many crane species are often found near water.

All crane bodies include a short tail that is covered with drooping feathers called a bustle. I found the wattled cranes so elegant with their long bustles, smoky colors, and bright red wattles.

Balearica. The third genera of crane includes this grey crowned crane (Balearica regulorum), found in eastern and southern Africa.

This is one of the most beautiful and exotic cranes I have ever seen…it didn’t seem right for them to be slopping around in the mud. While they foraged, their spiky golden crown feathers vibrated stiffly.

A variety of gregarious, exotic, elegant and dancing cranes to begin your new year. Happy New Year, dear readers, and thank you for another year of good times.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.


104 thoughts on “The Gift of Cranes

    • I chuckled at the thought of transforming Canada Geese into Sandhill Cranes, Hien. And I hope your writer’s imagination never stops. Happy New Year to you, and congrats on the completion and publication of your new book.

    • Great fun to hear what your grandma used to call cranes, Willy. I’ve read that herons were called Shy Pokes too. I googled it and found that Webster’s Dictionary “suggests that herons were given this name because of their habit of defecating when flushed.” That’s a new one on me…had to smile. Thanks Willy, I enjoyed the info and smile. Happy New Year my friend.

  1. Thanks for sharing all of these beautiful cranes with us, Jet. I have always marveled at the shots that other photographers have captured of Sandhill Cranes (especially those with babies) and when they are dancing, but have not yet seen one in real life. Perhaps when it is safe to travel… Happy New Year, Jet and Athena, and best wishes for a healthy and happy 2021.

    • Yes, sandhill cranes are not too common in your neck of the woods, Mike. Florida or Texas will grant you your wish, or if you’re ever in No. Calif., plan it for Nov.-Feb. and Athena and I will take you up to the Pacific Flyway. We’ll bring an extra scone for you! Looking forward to traveling times, but until then, sending lots of smiles and new year wishes your way, Mike. Thanks for all the fantastic photos this year, my friend.

    • I thought of you when I composed this post, Tim, and all the sandhill cranes you have photographed down in NM and the Rio Grande. It was great fun to share the cranes here today, thanks so much for your visit. My warmest wishes to you for a pleasant new year.

    • Where we go to see the sandhill cranes in No. Calif. is rural and I’ve often wondered what it would be like to live in one of those farmhouses, having sandhill cranes so close you could hear them. Your comment was great, Craig, and how wonderful for you to hear them from your house. I’m always amazed at how far their calls can be heard. When it’s really foggy we can hear them clearly but can’t see anything. Cheers, Craig, to a new year filled with lovely sounds and experiences.

    • I’m glad I could share some of the interesting facts and beauty of cranes with you, John. My best wishes to you, too, for a wonderful 2021. Thanks for sharing all the beautiful sights of LV this year, much enjoyed.

  2. The variety of cranes is fascinating, Jet, along with their behaviors. I love the elegant beauty of the regal grey-crowned and the wattled cranes. Funny, it made me think of the origin of how a construction crane was named (Ancient Greeks) I hadn’t really made the connection. ๐Ÿ˜ New Year wishes to you and Athena for a much better 2021. Thankful for blogging friendships like yours.

    • Yes, isn’t that interesting, Jane? Long necks and cranes. I have so enjoyed your lovely photos and quotes this year, and I’m happy it has been a mutual sharing of earth’s beauties. My warmest wishes to you for a lovely year ahead.

    • Happy new year to you, too, pc, and Mrs. PC too. Thanks for sharing your wonderful photos and experiences this year, pc, I look forward to more laughter with you in the new year.

    • How lovely to have you stop by, sharing your hugs on the wing, Teagan. It was great fun to share the amazing cranes with you. And I send my warm wishes to you for a new year of brightness and love.

  3. Beautiful birds! I would love to see one day a dance๐Ÿ™‚ We’ve seen a pair of sandhill cranes this summer along our road trip in Manitoulin Island, but they were just foraging the field.
    Warm wishes for 2021!

    • It’s great that you’ve seen a pair of sandhill cranes, Christie. You just keep cruising the back roads and one day you’ll see a pair dance. Until then, I’m glad I could share some of the crane magic here. Hoping you new year has magic, Christie. Thanks so much.

  4. They are such beautiful birds. I defy any human with long skinny legs like that to be as graceful. I’ve seen sandhill cranes do their dance in a marshy field on the Queen Charlotte Islands many years ago. It was a sight to remember forever. Great post of these gorgeous birds.

  5. “How far can you throw that dirt clump handsome?” Now there is a way to impress the girls. Well at least the Sandhill girls. Fascinating and as always I’m learning again today on your blog.
    It seems an extraordinary conservation accomplishment that the Whooping cranes have been saved from extinction. The photos are incredible and especially the close up of the Sandhill crane head. Can I ask what function the hole in the beak provides?

    • Always a great joy to hear from you, Sue. I laughed at your quote about the male crane’s dirt clump throwing. In the original draft of this post I had written a pithy sentence about “dirty birds” after that dirt clump photo, but I took it out. But I’m glad you enjoyed the dirt clump scene, I thought that was so interesting. And yes, it is extraordinary conservation that whooping cranes are still here on earth with us. The hole in the beak, which we see in many birds, is called a nare and is part of the respiratory system. Here’s what Beak-Wikipedia says about them in response to your great question: “Most species of birds have external nares (nostrils) located somewhere on their beak. The nares are two holesโ€”circular, oval or slit-like in shapeโ€”which lead to the nasal cavities within the bird’s skull, and thus to the rest of the respiratory system.” Cheers to you and Dave, dear friend, for a new year of good times and sweet moments.

    • Dear Walt, it is a joy to share the beauty of the cranes with you. Thanks so much for your kind words and visit, and sending my very best wishes to you and your loved ones for a wonderful new year.

  6. Thanks for all the information and wonderful photos to start of 2021 in a positive way. While we lived in Illinois, I always meant to go to Wisconsin to see the cranes but we never made it. Maybe when I go back to visit friends I can work in a crane visit as well.

    Cheers to a wonder-filled 2021!


    • Hi Janet, how wonderful to share the cranes today. Since you’re out here now in the west, I think you’d have a much better look at cranes in NM, in the wild. The WI Foundation is pleasant, but Bosque del Apache and other Rio Grande sites are truly magnificent and loaded with cranes. Cheers to you, and many thanks for a lovely exchange of thoughts and pictures of all the beauty in this world.

  7. Cranes of any kind are beautiful birds with great poise and distinction. I like them. As always, your post is interesting and quite informative. Thank you, my friend. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thank you, HJ, I’m glad you enjoyed the crane post today and I agree, such poise and distinction they carry. Happy to spend another year sharing the beautiful birds of this planet with you, HJ…thanks so much.

  8. Thank you for this lovely post on the world’s tall and elegant cranes, Jet and Athena. I hope the new year allows for a return to your explorations and world travel. It has been a challenging year for everyone, but for travel-lovers, I imagine it has been extra challenging tethered to home. โค

    • Yes, it has been a challenging year for all, no doubt about that, Eliza. But I think we’ve all learned to enjoy what we have and be grateful it isn’t worse, and our hearts go out to those who have truly suffered. It was great fun composing this post about cranes, and I’m really glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing all the beauty of your garden throughout the year, Eliza, I enjoyed your flowers and art so much. Cheers to a new year ahead.

    • So wonderful to have you visit today, Irene. I’m glad you liked that photo pointing out how tricky they can be to spot. It’s kind of surprising when they are so big, and then Athena’s photos make them stand out so much; I thought a little reality-check would be good to add. Many thanks.

    • Cranes are a beloved and beautiful creature, I’m glad you enjoyed them for the new year’s post today, Sherry. I send my best to you and your husband for a new year filled with beautiful sights and happy moments. And thanks for all your lovely photos and art this year on the east coast.

  9. Such a lovely post – reminds of the scene in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel when the magistrate dies as a crane takes flight. Thanks for all the great posts over this last difficult year โค๏ธ

    • I saw that movie but I don’t recall the crane scene so I’m really glad you mentioned it, Jan. We are lucky to have the magic of cranes on our planet, glad you enjoyed the post. And my thanks to you, too, for your posts and friendship over this past year. I have enjoyed your gift of writing and the humor of life that you have a particular skill for expressing. Some of my loudest laughs at the computer resulted from reading your art. Cheers my friend.

    • Thanks Bill. Isn’t that gray crowned crane so exotically beautiful? I’m glad you enjoyed the cranes, and am grateful for your year-long support, thanks so much. I hope in the new year that it will be safe to visit you again. Until then, cheers to a new year and new hopes.

  10. Big hugs and happy thoughts for a new year full of continued excitement
    with all that’s best in our natural world. Thank you Jet and Athena for your
    most informative presentations and delightful photographs. Eddie

    • Dear Eddie, it is such a pleasure to share the cranes of this world, and you are such a pleasure too. Thanks so much for your openness to life and adventure and beauty, and for your kindness and wisdom in your posts and comments and friendship. We have more great things to share in 2021…how wonderful!

    • I so appreciate this enchanting news that cranes have found their way to Abaco, RH. Interesting, too, that they drop in at the same place. Cheers, my friend. I’m headed over right now to see what you’ve been up to. Thanks for your visit and news.

  11. what a great post to welcome 2021, Jet. the many good symbols they bring are truly a gift. they look happy and upbeat. the grey crowned cane in Kenya looks regal! Happy New Year to you and Athena! ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Regal is the perfect word for the grey crowned crane, Wilma. We saw several at a pond that day, and they were hanging out quietly with an antelope who was resting. Thanks so much for your visit, Wilma, and for your visits and comments throughout the year. I’ve so enjoyed your visits to Mallard Lake, your backyard, and visits in the past to many places in the world. Wishing you a new year of hope and love and good times.

  12. Thank you for this lovely New Year post, Jet – and for bringing us much joy, insight and virtual travel in the past year. You were a breath of fresh air every week. All best wishes to you and Athena for the year ahead!

      • I’m so very glad you enjoyed the cranes, Nan. You know how treasured our visits to the Pacific Flyway have been for us every winter. Glad you got a kick out of the car photo. We easily spend the whole day out there in the middle of nowhere frolicking in winter rain or sunshine, enchanted by the cranes. So having good food and hot beverages for those cold outdoor hours just makes this complete heaven for us. Thank you for your visits and kind words every single week of the year, dear Nan, they are much appreciated.

  13. Dear Jet… this post just made my day! I LOVE the cranes. One of my greatest thrills was catching the Sandhills doing their dance. What a total delight and listening to them…. like nothing else! I’m so glad you were able to encounter them, too. I’m thrilled to see how Athena’s photography is developing (pun intended!) It’s a delight to see some of the up close details of these delightful creatures.

    • It was a great joy to receive your comment, Gunta. It is such a thrill to see them dance, and to be in their presence, so I’m so very glad that you have had that thrill. Your warm comments and visit were much appreciated.

    • I’m very happy you enjoyed the close-up of the sandhill crane, Barbara. I like that one so much too. They are skittish and tentative birds, so getting near them is not possible. But a long lens is a wonderful tool, and Athena’s quick and artistic skills are a gift. Sending you a smile of thanks….

  14. Once again, Jet, lovely photos and text. I had to laugh when I read about the Sandhill Crane. One day a couple of years ago my husband and I were working in the yard when we heard this incredible racket that we couldn’t identify. It came from our neighbor’s yard so we went across the street to see if he knew what was going on. We never thought of birds! We scared off the cranes (unintentionally) and asked our neighbor whose property backs up to a park. He said they were Sandhill Cranes in mating season. Your description that they are wordy was so spot on. Great post once again.

    • A true pleasure to have you stop by, LuAnne, thanks for your wonderful words and visit today. I liked hearing your story about the racket of the sandhill cranes at your neighbors’ all the way across the street. Thanks very much.

  15. Jet, I am sorry it takes me eternity to visit. Please bear with me โค
    We don't have cranes here in Ireland, but I saw them once in the US. I was in awe.
    Thank you for all the wonderful posts and photographs. All the best for 2021!

  16. Your field with sandhills in northern California is how I usually see them: rummaging around in stubble-filled rice fields, or the occasional mowed prairie patch. I was lucky enough to see four whooping cranes in flight early in December, on their way to the Aransas Wildlife Refuge, but I haven’t yet found any sandhills. They’re such majestic birds; I can see why they’ve become such cultural icons in places.
    Thanks to you and Athena for the great posts and photos. Here’s to a 2021 that can recover itself and become a far better year than 2020!

    • I very much enjoyed hearing about the cranes in TX, Linda, and how thrilling that you spotted four whooping cranes last month. Wonderful that you got to see them in flight. I would imagine Aransas is hopping with migratory birds right now… Thank you for your visit and comments, and good year wishes, and I send my best to you, too, for a year of sweetness and safety.

  17. Pingback: The Gift of Cranes โ€” Jet Eliot |

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