It's early July and this young Sandhill Crane is making his debut into the sunlight. Still protected by watchful parents, he is getting his first taste of a greater world. Food is of utmost importance.
What to eat and where to find it is the lesson today.
The colt investigates.
A parent points out a seed or maybe a snail. Sandhill Cranes eat from a big table of larva, lizards, insects, grains, berries and tubers. Introducing the colt to what is edible and what is not will continue for the next 8-9 months. There is a lot to learn if s/he is to reach adulthood. Their favorite foods exist mainly in marshes. Sandhill Cranes need these areas to breed and raise their young.
Sandhill Cranes typically lay two eggs, but it's uncommon for more than one to survive to adulthood. Colts are capable of walking within eight hours of hatching, unlike nesting birds which require a period of time in the nest to grow and fledge. The adults keep their colt hidden in six-foot tall grass for protection. Raccoons, foxes and coyotes are an ever present danger, so it's risky to venture far from deep cover.
Adult Sandhill Cranes are not defenseless when it comes to protecting their flightless young. With a six and a half foot wingspan, a sharp bill and the ability to deliver a kick with powerful legs, land predators are given good reasons to be cautious when taking on cranes.
Ariel predators, such as eagles, are met with an ariel jump and a swift kick.
Growing up quickly on the good diet provided by mindful parents, this colt presents a muscleman pose to impress them.
Sandhill Crane populations are stable, despite only one chick surviving per year. Sandhill Cranes mate for life and the oldest on record lived 36 years and 7 months.
New feathers are replacing the downy warm fuzz he has worn since hatching.
The family will migrate again this fall, along well traveled routes to New Mexico and Texas. You may be fortunate enough to see a Sandhill Crane while it's still small...even get a good picture if you're very lucky.
I wasn't so lucky...Fred was!
Or maybe it's Fred's perseverance and skill that provides the magic in his photographs.
Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
Credit: All photographs, Fred Thorne