They say that, in the spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. Well, this slightly not young woman’s fancy may also turn to love, but it also turns to something else. Baby Sandhill cranes.
I live in central Florida where Sandhill cranes are practically the official mascot of our region. Ball teams have cheerleaders that dress in feathers and make deep yodeling trumpet noises to encourage their players. Actual real-live Sandhill cranes are quite content to hang out anywhere reasonably close to water. They seem to have no hesitation about people or other interlopers. Since I live in Lake County, it comes as no surprise that we have quite the Sandhill crane population. In my community, we have lots of feathered Sandhill neighbors. In fact, you have probably seen bumper stickers that admonish “Share the Road With Motorcycles” or “Share the Road With Bicycles.” Instead, we share the road with Sandhill cranes. They are remarkably assertive creatures. They are perfectly peaceful and non-combative, but do not surrender their space easily. If they are standing in the road, they will likely keep standing there, even when approached by a two-ton vehicle. Once you have lived in central Florida for even a short time, you learn to just wait your turn. Those cranes will eventually move out of the way, but it will be in their own sweet time.
The Sandhill crane traffic issues may sound like a hassle, but, in reality, those of us who live with them don’t mind too much. These birds truly are beautiful, peaceful, and graceful. They glide across the sky with wings that span in excess of six feet. Their calls, something between a yodel and a dirge, are distinctively heart-warming. Sandhill cranes, like many birds, mate for life. I get worried when I see one on its own. There is something anthropomorphic about them. I have never been a huge bird person, but I find Sandhill cranes so relatable. Maybe I am more of a birdbrain that I ever thought.
Sandhill crane couples usually have 1-3 babies each year in the spring. Both parents care for the children. Kids stay with their parents for about nine or ten months. In fact, it is a bit traumatic for me to watch the crane families in December. This is about the time that the juveniles are being “encouraged” to leave the nest so that there is space in the family for a new set of hatchlings. The “encouragement” can look a little harsh. Still, there is that circle of life thing and I am hoping that all that “encouragement” will motivate our juvenile cranes to find happiness on their own.
Starting towards the end of February every year, I start scanning the roads, greenbelts, and ponds in my community for signs of the newest Sandhill crane generation. It is a day for celebrating when I see my first Sandhill crane babies of the season. I am not the only person anticipating this annual event. There is a regular traffic sign a couple of miles away from my house that says “Caution: Baby Sandhill crane crossing.” So weird, but so nice.
The other day, the annual miraculous moment happened. I saw the Sandhill crane babies for the first time of the season. We were driving out of our development to visit some friends when we passed a small feathery family of four loping cautiously across the green space along our community exit. I squealed involuntarily and barely refrained from slamming on the brakes. Max would have been alarmed by my reaction, except that he also saw the babies… and knew what to expect of me. I cried out in reverence, “Oh look, BABIES!” My heart jumped around inside my chest for the rest of the day, celebrating this momentous occasion.
I recently learned that Sandhill crane babies are not called “chicks” or “cranelings” or any other birdlike monikers. They are called “colts.” Now, I have always thought of “colts” as baby horses. It would seem to me that there is nothing further from a horse than a Sandhill crane. Despite being called a “crane,” I’m not thinking that the Sandhills can do any heavy construction work. Cinderella never had Sandhill cranes pull her pumpkin carriage, even with a generous helping of enchantment. You can’t ride them. I don’t think there is a Sandhill crane racing off-track betting location anywhere nearby. Then, I realized the nexus. Baby Sandhill cranes basically look like ducklings stapled to the top of two spindly pencils, where the erasers would normally be. Their legs must be about five times the length of their bodies. When novelists write about leggy young girls who seem to not completely know what to do with their limbs, they often use the term “coltish.” I always thought those novelists were making the comparison to baby horses. Maybe, all this time, those novelists really meant baby Sandhill cranes!
What animals herald the onset of Spring where you live? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a flighty day!