Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Crane Spotting

by Anita Mae Draper

This week after uploading a new header to my Facebook page, I waited for comments of recognition, or at the very least questions of the bird species, without displaying the information in the image like I've done below.

I received some comments and likes, but I'm not sure anyone recognized my image of whooping cranes, an endangered species.

Identify a Crane. Courtesy of the International Crane Foundation

Actually, when we first saw them on our evening walk, we weren't even sure if they were whooping cranes. We had just passed the shelterbelt and our farm sign and were faced with a wide open eastern view of the prairie when movement across the road in a marshy area caught our eyes. We spotted the 3 cranes and I was ecstatic. And then, in our excitement, we moved too close and they took flight.

Whooping Cranes Taking Flight, April 2015. Photo by Anita Mae Draper

Seeing them fly was beautiful, but I felt guilty that I chased away these beautiful creatures who had stopped to rest on their 2,500 mile migration from Aransas, Texas to Wood Buffalo National Park which straddles the border between Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

You can understand how special we felt when you realize whooping cranes were placed on the endangered species list back in the mid 1940's when biologists placed their population at 21, although National Geographic puts the number as low as 16. And no, there are no zeroes behind that number.

Whooping Crane Migration Path. Courtesy of the International Crane Foundation

I've marked the location of our Montmartre, SK farm on the above map (Map courtesy of the International Crane Foundation). The cranes in my images are among the last of the naturally occurring whooping crane stock. Biologists suspect there were over one thousand whooping cranes in the 1800's, but their demise is believed to be due to hunting and egg collection as well as the influx of settlers who plowed the native prairie after draining the wetlands to make them arable.

Labeling the whooping crane as an Endangered Species instigated captive breeding programs over the years, in several states. Chicks are raised by humans wearing costumes that imitate their natural mothers, as shown in the following video:

Once they are old enough, they are trained to fly by following an ultra light plane, much like Canada geese did in the movie, Fly Away Home.

Whooping cranes don't begin to breed until they are 3-4 years old, and then it is only to a mate whom they've bonded with which can take another 3-4 years. Like humans, cranes like or disllike other cranes on sight and the female won't breed unless she feels an affinity to and has bonded with a certain male. Once bonded, they mate for life which can be 22-28 years.

Whooping cranes have 3 different sounds depending on their activity and you can listen to them all at the site, or you can play my video and hear what sends me running outside with my camera. I can hear cranes coming from about half a mile away if the wind is right, and although they are usually the smaller sandhill cranes, they make the same sound as the whooping cranes. Sometimes they come in a V formation and I have to zoom in close to be sure they're not geese, but once they start circling, I know they're cranes. They go around and around many times and I lose sight of them, but then their pre-historic crawking sound draws my eye once again.

This video shows about 3 dozen sandhill cranes circling which I suspect is their way of conserving energy. They certainly cover a lot of ground doing it..

In this next video if you ignore the wind and the blurry flock, you can hear the sound they make while flying. My camera refused to focus on the fast cranes.

Whooping cranes remain on the endangered species list although their population is slowly increasing through these breeding programs.

2015 Whooping Crane World Population. Courtesy of the International Crane Foundation

You can help make a difference. This Saturday, on April 16th, is Crane Spotting Day of Sandhill and Whooping Cranes in over 90 counties in six states of the upper Midwest (Wisconsin and portions of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota).

If you'd like to help out with this Crane Spotting survey, here's what the International Crane Foundation advises... New volunteers interested in taking part in the survey should first contact their local County Coordinator for instructions. Click here for a listing of 2016 County Coordinators, or contact Sara Gavney Moore, Communications Specialist, 608-356-9462, x155.

Whooping Crane or Sandhill Crane? Photo by Anita Mae Draper

Even though there isn't a Crane Spotting Day up here in Canada, you can be sure I'll be sitting at my bistro table on my south-facing patio all day Saturday to join in the count. My only problem is being able to identify a whooping crane from a sandhill crane while they're flying!

Did you hear about the whooping crane pair that was shot recently? The pair had bonded and would begin breeding in the next year or two. Such a heart-wrenching waste.


Anita Mae Draper's stories are written under the western skies where she lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan with her hubby of 30 plus years and the youngest of their four kids. When she's not writing, Anita enjoys photography, research, and travel, and is especially happy when she can combine the three in one trip. Anita's current release is Romantic Refinements, a novella in Austen in Austin Volume 1, WhiteFire Publishing, January 2016.  Anita is represented by Mary Keeley of Books & Such Literary Management. You can find Anita Mae at


  1. Very nice, Anita. And sad, too. I knew they were endangered but didn't know how few there are. My cat was quite interested when I played the sound video!

    1. LOL Suzie, that's funny. Thanks for commenting. :)

  2. I'm so excited for you. What a treat! I live in one 'fly-way' and we get some nice visitors, too, but so far, no cranes. I recall seeing a Nature special (on PBS) decades ago and I was just fascinated with them. Congratulations. I'll have to try the video on my cat too. :)

    1. Deb, I've seen some of your Facebook posts about your different birds and wish some day to see what you see. :)

      Well, it's Saturday today and I heard some cranes earlier, but didn't see any. I suppose if they're counting them southside of the border, then it'll take a couple days to fly up here. I'll be ready when they come. :)

      Thanks for stopping by, Deb.


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