In Conversation with Sandhill Cranes
It was two months ago that I set out on a trip to Manitoulin Island. I have heard of this place before, but I never imagined I would ever have a chance to work there. It is the largest island surrounded by fresh-water in the world. I know I was going to assist on a project on Sandhill Cranes, where we had to capture, handle and assist in attaching GPS transmitters on the cranes. What I did not know, was that I was given an opportunity to study, observe, nurture my hobby of photography and learn to be patient. During the period of this study, it was not only Sandhill Cranes I had the opportunity to stare at for hours, but the diverse flora and fauna of the island, which I will discuss in the end.
|An adult Sandhill Crane|
|Sandhill Crane in flight|
|Sandhill Crane with a GPS and bird-band ready to be released. For our safety we had to hold them upside down.|
The birds were not harmed at all.
|At the roosting site|
|Sandhill Cranes, when alarmed, raise their heads and often walk while moving their head forward and backwards|
You don’t always have to see these birds, since only listening to them can provide a great deal of information. They sound like trumpets, with every tune expressing a different mood. I was startled when I first heard them – so loud, so cheerful. After a few weeks, we learnt how to decipher them – and it’s easy. When we were hiding in our hideouts, I often could not see the cranes, but their presence was always known – thanks to my friends’ running commentary! But that’s not all; it was the cranes that made their presence felt. That loud flapping of wings as they swooped past our hideout in early mornings, that loud, shrill call – welcoming the morning sun. It was all a beyond-normal experience. These cranes talk. And they talk smart. We found this out by listening to them – and now we can tell when they are happy, alert or sad, we can also tell when a mother is calling for her baby, or a baby calling for its parents.
As interesting as it is, it is not difficult like song-birds at all. I was not surprised to decipher their language – to an extent – but after I came back, I hit the search button on Google and it produced several searches – some of them about the study of Sandhill crane calls. After going through it, I was surprised that I was right! They did speak a language that I understand! This was an achievement, personally, since I have never studied any animal so closely before that can talk.
In summary, the calls of the cranes are quite distinct. When they are happy, they give out a gallant call, mostly accompanied with flapping of wings, jumping, and chasing each other. When they are alarmed, they freeze – call in a high pitched tune at a random. This alarm call is comparable to the chorus of monkeys, when they sense danger – or that of wolves, when they howl. All of these animals do not call in unison, although they call together. They call one after the other, at different times using different tunes – this perhaps makes them seem to be greater in numbers, which might startle and intimidate the predator [but in case of wolves, it is a warning call for the neighboring clan]. When caught, which I consider to be their “sad” mood, they give out a gurgling call. The juvenile cranes call is rather different than the adult. The call is sweet, song like and pretty loud to catch the attention of the parents.
|The eye of a majestic crane|
|A Sandhill Crane flock in Hay-field|
To learn more about the technical work for the Sandhill Cranes project, and to get a glimpse at the flora and fauna of Manitoulin Island, visit my online slideshow below: