Posted by: atowhee | October 31, 2021



“Behold the loud, sonorous, watchful savanna cranes [in Florida](grus pratensis) with musical clangor, in detached squadrons.  They spread their light elastic sail: at first they move from the earth heavy and slow; they labour and beat the dense air; they all rise and fall together as one bird; now they mount aloft, gradually wheeling about…whilst other squadrons, ascending aloft in spiral circles, bound on interesting discoveries…far from the scope of eye, they carefully observe the verdant meadows…then contract their plumes and descend to the earth, where, after resting a while on some verdant eminence…they, with dignified, yet slow, respectful steps, approach the kindred band, confer, and treat for habitation; the bounds and precincts being settled, they confederate and taken possession.”
                        —Travels of William Bartram, William Bartram, 1791

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty.  It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.  The quality of cranes lies, I think, in this higher gamut, as yet beyond the reach of words.”                         –Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac

 “Our appreciation of cranes grows with the slow unraveling of earthly history.  His tribe, we now know, stems out of the remote Eocene.  The other members of the fauna  in which he originated are long since entombed within the hills.  When we hear his call we hear no mere bird.  We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution.  He is the symbol of our untamable past, of the incredible sweep of millennia which underlies and conditions the daily affairs of birds and men.”                                        —   “Marshland Elegy” by Aldo Leopold

On seeing them in Nebraska in winter:  “Despite being forewarned, I was unprepared for the sheer volume of their calls, and it was getting louder by the minute.  My overall impression was of a riotous free-for-all…it was a din unlike any that I had ever heard, a haunting, otherworldly sound.  And it was the sound that had already been heard for ages when this river, the Platte River, had been born.
“For 60 million years, the call of the sandhill crane has echoed across the world’s wetlands and waterways, and it’s been heard in North America for at least 9 million years.  Sandhill cranes, the oldest living bird species, have seen the violent birthing of entire mountains ranges, and then watched these same experience slow death at the hands of wind and rain…  Long before man first took feeble steps on two legs, or raised a rock in anger, sandhills were already ancient.”
                                 –“The Valley of the Cranes”  by Jim Miller

“The sandhill crane touches special heartstrings for me, for more than any other bird species, I associate it with Nebraska and the Platte River, both of which are very dear to me… My passion for sandhill cranes began in the spring of 1962, shortly after I had arrived to take up teaching duties at the University of Nebraska… At that time cranes received very little publicity as a birding spectacle… It was perhaps just as well that I wasn’t emotionally prepared for the sight of countless cranes punctuating the sky from horizon to horizon, gracefully wheeling about overhead as if they were caught in some ultra-slow-motion whirlwind, their vibrato calls drifting downward like the music of an angelic avian chorus.”                       —Crane Music, Paul A. Johnsgard

“Flock after flock came weaving  across the sky, often in mile-long skeins, changing shape, flowing without a pause.  The air, before and behind us, seemed filled with their moving forms, filled also with the clamor of their voices.  The wild chorus rose and fell, changed continually.  At one time it suggested brant in flight, at another the rough purring of a cat, but in the end it remained unique, the commingled calling of many cranes…

“More than once, as the twilight deepened, a long skein of returning cranes passed directly across the luminous disk of the moon, each bird in turn standing out in sharp-cut silhouette.  Each performer in this silhouette parade flew easily, buoyantly, riding the air on wings whose spread exceeded the extreme length of the bird by as much as three feet.”
                                                 —Wandering Through Winter by Edwin Way Teale

“On big unfenced prairies and the treeless expanse of marsh…you find sandhill cranes…stalking about in dignified but ever watchful manner… Let an enemy appear in the distance [including people as these birds are hunted in many places], and the long necks are are up, and one of the most powerful, far-reaching bird-notes rings out with alarm challenge, a prolonged bugle-like cry, deeper and heavier than the loon’s and often heard a mile away. With a quick run the splendid birds mount on the wing, the bugle-notes resounding rhythmically with only the space of inspiration between as they fly; and though their calls mellow in the distance, the cranes vanish as specks in the air before the sound of their magnificent voices is entirely lost.”
-Handbook of the Birds of the Western United States, Florence & Vernon Bailey, 1917

“In all of  North America, only a handful of animal calls have the power to stir the human soul as profoundly as these crane calls.  The yodeling of loons on a northwoods lake, the bugling of elk across a misty meadow, the lugubrious howling of a wolf pack in a wilderness forest—these are sounds that bypass the ears to sink their teeth into a nerve deep within the listener, these and the ancient gurgling cries of cranes echoing over a dark river.”
                                                         —The Cry of the Sandhill Crane, by Steve Grooms.

“The Romans noted the changing of the seasons by the raucous trumpeting of the cranes.  In Greek mythology the alphabet was said to have been invented by the god Mercury which observing cranes in flight.”
                                                                            —The Book of Cranes,  Claire Cooley

“High horns, low horns, silence, and finally pandemonium of trumpets, rattles, croaks, and cries that almost shakes the bog with its nearness, but without yet disclosing whence it comes.  At last a glint of sun reveals the approach of a great echelon of birds.  On motionless wing they emerge from the lifting mists, sweep a final arc of sky, and settle in clangorous spirals to their feeding grounds.  A new day had begun on the crane marsh.”       —Sand County Almanac,  Aldo Leopold

“This morning we were awakened by the loud cries of the sandhill crane, performing evolutions in the air, high over their feeding grounds…  This crane is a social bird, sometimes assembling in great numbers, soaring aloft in the air, flying with an irregular kind of gyratory motion, each individual describing a large circle in the air independently of his associates, and uttering loud, dissonant, and repeated cries.  They sometimes continue thus to wing their flight upwards, gradually receding from the earth, until they become mere specks upon the sight, and finally disappear altogether, leaving only the discordant music of their concert to fall faintly upon the ear.” –Journal,  Thomas Say, 1820

“In the spring these gracefully ungainly birds indulge in curious antics of courtship.  The male bows with outstretched wings and nearly touches the ground with his beak in the extremity of his devotion.  The female returns the bow with respect quite as profound, and they indulge an absurd minuet, swaying, dancing, leaping, and executing high kicks with an entrancing degree of awkwardness.”       –The Birds of California,William Dawson

“Those who pass through life without stopping to admire the beauty, organization, melody or habits of birds rob themselves of a very great share of the pleasures of existence.”                                                  –Jacob Giraud

Books and stories about cranes:

An Australian enthralled by their cranes:

In the nesting photo above the cranes were trying to nest in temporarily flooded field in Malheur Basin last May. The water dried up and those nests were abandoned due to drought conditions.

There are several fine youtube videos of dancing cranes, but click here for one of my favorites.

Click here to see dawn at Lodi, duriong crane season in the Central Valley.


  1. […] See how naturalists struggle to put the crane’s c omplexity and elegance into words, click her… […]

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