Species of the Month, January 2022: Sandhill Cranes
by Mary Gartshore
Sandhills are arriving daily, foraging in fields of harvested grain, building their reserves for their continued journey southwards. Everywhere we can hear their distinctive calls. But until recently this spectacular avian event was not so. Sandhill Cranes are restocking their former range. In 2016 during the Long Point Christmas Bird Count 1370 Sandhills were counted and last year over 7,000.
When migrating cranes began to appear at Long Point there was speculation that they might nest in the large marshes. Cranes are so secretive that it took a few years for nesting to be confirmed in Big Creek marsh. Now there are cranes nesting in marshes throughout the Great Lakes.
Crane species around the world are held in sacred trust by many cultures. Common Cranes returned to the Norfolk Broads, England in 1979 to great applause amongst birdwatchers and the public.
Sandhill Cranes are life-long learners, which is why chicks (called colts) accompany parents for up to a year. In spring the few that stay locally to breed may eat the kernels of sprouting corn. This causes a problem for farmers. Scare tactics may drive cranes to new fields and shooting has the same effect. Research in the US on coating seed grains with the repellant Avipel has proven safe, successful, and cost-effective. Avipel was approved in 50 states in 2019 and is helping farmers and cranes. Cranes have quickly learned to focus on eating destructive insects. The International Crane Foundation supports the use of Avipel. As of May 2021, this product had not been approved in Canada.