Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sandhill Cranes at World Bird Sanctuary

In this blog I would like to introduce you to a fascinating pair of birds that I became familiar with while working at the World Bird Sanctuary.  They are a stately pair of Sandhill Cranes named Menomenee and Shawnee and can be seen on the WBS exhibit line—just down the path from our Wildlife Hospital. 
 Menomenee and Shawnee - Photo by Lisbeth Hodges, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist
Menomenee and Shawnee came to WBS in August of 2011 from a rehabilitation facility in Wisconsin.  They were hatched in the wild, so their age is unknown, but we do know that they are adults because of their plumage (feather color).  Because they both have wing injuries they are unable to survive in the wild. 
 Shawnee full length photo showing markings (Photo by Gay Schroer)

Sandhill Cranes are very tall gray/light brown birds.  They have long legs and long graceful necks and stand from three to five feet tall.  They also have red plumage on the forehead and white cheeks that mimic the shape of their long beak.  Sandhill Cranes are not sexually dimorphic, meaning that the males and females look the same.

The Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) is one of the most interesting and abundant cranes in the world!   Their current population stands at about 650,000 and they are listed by the IUCN as a species of Least Concern.

There are three migratory subspecies that includes the Lesser, Greater, and Canadian subspecies.  Then there are three non-migratory subspecies that includes the Mississippi, Florida, and Cuba Sandhill Cranes.  These stately birds are native to North America and Siberia.  They can be found in freshwater wetlands, grasslands and meadows.  Their diet consists of many things including mice, snakes, insects, plants, and grains.  These beautiful birds have an amazing wingspan ranging from five to six feet.  The weight of these cranes can range from 6 to 14 pounds, depending upon where they are from and which subspecies they are.

Sandhill Cranes breed in Canada, Siberia, Alaska, and the northern United States.  They become sexually mature anywhere from two to seven years old.  Clutch size (number of eggs or chicks) is usually around two eggs and both parents will help incubate.  They prefer to nest in the wetlands and use plant material to make their nest.  The female will lay pale brown eggs with dark brown markings.
Sandhill Cranes with chick-Yellowstone N.P. by Gay Schroer, WBS Volunteer
Sandhill Crane chicks are precocial, which means they are covered in down, with eyes open, and are able to leave the nest within 24 hours of hatching.  Another amazing fact is that they can feed themselves within one day of hatching!  How many chicks can do that?!

Their lifespan in the wild is around 20 years and can reach up to 30 to 40 years in captivity.
 Shawnee & Menomenee Unison Calling (Photo by Gay Schroer, WBS Volunteer)
 Sandhill cranes have a few different vocalizations.  One is a loud rattling kar-r-r-o-o-o with many variations of it.  Another is the contact call, which is a low, soft pitch call that allows the birds to stay in contact with each other even when out of sight.  Another call they make is a guard call which a very loud single call to alert other cranes that there is a threat nearby.  The last one is a unison call, in which a pair will stand close to each other and synchronize their calls while tilting their heads up towards the sky.  It is a sign that shows that the pair is bonding.  This is my favorite call.  Since Menomenee and Shawnee have been here at WBS, I have only heard them do this unison call twice.  It’s an amazing sound and it seems that they do it more during nice weather. 

Both Shawnee and Menomenee are available for adoption in our Adopt a Bird program.  To find out more information, call 636-861-3225.  All adoption donations are tax deductible. 

Shawnee and Menomenee can be seen on the exhibit line at the World Bird Sanctuary which is open daily from 8am-5pm.  This pair is very unique to see.  You should stop on by and visit them!

Submitted by Lisbeth Hodges, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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