Sandhill cranes are rare and hard to find in British Columbia. I have seen them twice at Reifel Bird Sanctuary but never anywhere else. The first time I saw them, my grandmother had actually spotted them on a field on the other side of a river bank in the raptor section of the park. I had assumed that had just seen some herons as she is from England and not used to the Canadian birds but instead I could tell right away what these five or so birds were as they had striking red heads and black legs. The next time I saw a sandhill was last December which was surprising seeing as several websites suggest that they are only supposed to migrate to British Columbia during summer. They were standing right in the middle of the path to the exit and were acting like ducks in the way that they were not at all scared by humans. In fact, they even let me hand feed them although their jabbing beaks were very sharp!
- Sandhill cranes are fearless birds, possibly even more so than hummingbirds! These cranes have been known to attack people, vehicles, and even bears and alligators! By being on the attack and spreading their wings out to make themselves bigger, they could probably scare away anything.
- Sandhill cranes are known for their courtship display. The dance involves a lot of jumping around and spreading wings. An example is shown in this video clip. They also tend to make a lot of noise. Interestingly enough, cranes have actually developed an extra long windpipe that allows them to make deep calls heard from miles way.
- The most similar species to a sandhill crane that you will find in BC is a great blue heron as other crane species such as the whooping crane are found only in northern Canada and southern America. The heron differs from the crane because where the crane appears to stoop low and walk around, the heron is always standing gracefully tall and prefers flying to walking. The heron is also almost always found wading alone in the water while I have only seen cranes on a field or path and always in a group. If you still cannot tell the difference through these facts, remember that great blue herons have tufts on the backs of their heads and sandhill cranes have red foreheads. Finally, the crane sticks its head out when flying like a goose but the heron “folds” its head immediately after taking off.
This post’s photo was taken by my mother on my second sandhill crane sighting. We had thrown some bird seed on the ground and Mum was lucky (or skilled) enough to catch all three sandhill cranes feeding at once.