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Sandhill Cranes–A Cautionary Note for Spring Arrival

By Kachemak Crane Watch

April 2018

The Sandhill Crane count down has begun! With their arrival, consider some measures to ensure their safety and nesting success this summer.  Nearly 25 years ago, Kachemak Crane Watch began studying and surveying cranes. Kachemak Crane Watch, along with many Homer residents, have learned much about Homer’s beloved Sandhill Cranes – their nesting habitat, nesting success, migration routes, and wintering locations.

However, as Homer’s population has increased and additional land has been developed, more Sandhill Cranes are nesting in yards within the Homer city limits and non-breeding flocks are hanging out in busy neighborhoods, a potentially dangerous trend.   A major contributing reason for this, in part, is because more people in town are putting out corn for the cranes.

While we love our Sandhill Cranes, we don’t want to see cranes injured or killed by motor vehicles or dogs, or susceptible to other urban hazards such as collisions with power lines.  Nor do we want to see people or pets injured by cranes protecting their chicks.  Therefore, Kachemak Crane Watch is asking people in town not to put out corn for Sandhill Cranes this summer.  Surprisingly, there is plenty of natural food for cranes.

In addition to exposure to predation and other hazards, cranes within city limits are in an urban habitat unlike their natural habitat.  A more balanced diet found in a natural habitat provides protein and other nutrients not available in corn.  Cranes habituated to an urban setting are more exposed to predation risks due to open areas and poor nest sites, have sub-prime habitat to raise their flightless chicks (colts), and urban habitat often lacks essential protein food sources critical to colt development.  Also, colts are very susceptible to toxic chemicals used on urban lawns.  A colt born in June will be flightless until fledging in late August, early September – that colt in an urban habitat is very exposed to predation.

According to Dr. Gary Ivey, with the International Crane Foundation and well-known Sandhill Crane expert, “In these very urban, in-town sites they face increased risk of deaths and injuries from traffic, overhead wires, and domestic dogs.  Living in such an environment fundamentally changes the ‘wildness’ of these birds which may make these human-trusting cranes more susceptible to being shot by hunters and perhaps less wary of natural predators. I would expect that some people will be unhappy as their neighborhood cranes damage gardens and injure pets in defense of their young.”

Over the summer Kachemak Crane Watch will continue to closely monitor cranes within the Homer city limits and impacts of in-town feeding on crane survival, habitat preferences, and interactions with humans.  If you live within the City of Homer, please take the voluntary action of protecting cranes by not feeding them.  Turning the cranes into urban birds that can become nuisances, road hazards, or casualties themselves may force the Homer City Council to pass an ordinance against feeding cranes in the city limits.  Much better to heed the cautionary signs and voluntarily use common sense in not attracting them into these hazardous settings.

Enjoy a walk on the Beluga Slough boardwalk below the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center to observe nesting cranes and watch them raise their colts in a natural habitat.  In late August and early September, enjoy the spectacle of over 100 cranes at evening sunset flying into Beluga Slough to roost and feed.  Remember, feeding cranes is not necessary.  They will find plenty of high protein food to raise their young without extra feeding humans provide.  They will also find better habitat to nest and protect their young from predators and urban hazards.

Cranes are important to Homer – to the people, to our economy.   We love our cranes, so it is all about the cranes and doing what is best for them. We must use common sense and not attract them to where they can get hurt or killed or hurt humans or their pets.  If you live in town, please refrain from feeding the cranes to ensure our Sandhill Cranes and their colts have a safe summer in Homer.

 

A crane barely gets out of the way of a passing car in a neighborhood in town.

Homer’s April Bird of the Month: The Lesser Sandhill Crane

Kachemak Bay Birders is promoting the Year of the Bird with great articles each month in their “Bird of the Month” series.  April’s Bird of the Month is the Lesser Sandhill Crane, fitting because crane usually begin arriving in Homer Alaska on average April 12.  To view this month’s article on the Lesser Sandhill Crane click on the link below:

http://kachemakbaybirders.org/blog/category/bird-of-the-month/

Leucistic Crane had a Colt

Kachemak Crane Watch received this note from Dave Goeke on March 30, 2017.  Last summer the leucistic crane showed up in the Mat-Su area.  If anyone sees this crane and its colt, please let me know.   Send photos if you are able to get any of the crane and/or its colt.  Thanks!

Nina Faust
Kachemak Crane Watch
Homer, AK 99603
Phone:  907-235-6262 or Email:  
reports@cranewatch.org

Best regards,
Nina
Photo provided by Dave Goeke.

Heads up. The leucistic crane nested successfully last year! It is now accompanied by a leucistic juvenile from last season. The two were first photographed February 26 flying together over Consumnes River Preserve about 40 miles south of Sacramento, California. They were next photographed on the ground March 3 near Burns, Oregon. They were first observed here when I photographed them four miles south of Othello, Washington, on March 21 in the same cornfield where I photographed the adult last year. They have been seen here again on March 22, 25, and 26. They might still be here, but it appears a significant number of cranes might have moved on today. As I recall, last year the adult left about mid-April and arrived outside Palmer, Alaska, nine days later. I just thought you would like to know so you can get the word out to those who might want to know the birds are coming.

Dave Goeke
Othello, WA

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Citizen Scientists Track Crane Population

A sandhill crane looks and sounds like a modern day dinosaur.

They stand about three feet tall and have a six-foot wing span. They use their sharp four-inch beak for probing in the dirt and catching insects and small mammals.

And sometimes, they use that long beak for defense.

So begins the radio piece about Homer’s Sandhill Cranes on KBBI’s website.  Check out the whole story here:

http://kbbi.org/post/citizen-scientists-track-crane-population

Sandhill Crane Count Days

Kachemak Crane Watch needs your participation during Kachemak Crane Watch’s annual Sandhill Crane Count Days.  Please share this info with other crane lovers and count the cranes where you see them with the needed info as noted in the poster below.  Please submit your info on the day of each count, or as soon as you can before the next Count Day.

Saturday – August 27 – Crane Count – Day One                                                                               Friday – September 2 – Crane Count – Day Two                                                                         Thursday – September 8 – Crane Count – Final Day

Citizen Scientists needed for Kachemak Crane Watch’s Sandhill Crane population survey in the Homer area (Anchor Point South).  Kachemak Crane Watch would like to know of specific crane sightings with the following information;  please report:

  1.   The number of adults, colts, or banded cranes;
  2.   Location of sighting;
  3.   Date of observation.

Send all observations to reports@cranewatch.org or by call 907-235-6262. 

For more information, contact Nina Faust at 235-6262.

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Keep Sandhill Cranes Safe, By Nina Faust

The past few weeks, Kachemak Crane Watch has been receiving reports of Sandhill Cranes walking roads in town that are very busy with speeding cars and near power lines. Callers are asking why cranes are in this part of town in the middle of the street.   Many callers are concerned for the cranes and noted people in the area are feeding corn to attract cranes to their homes.

When I have given Kachemak Crane Watch presentations about cranes and folks ask if it is ok to put out corn, I tell folks corn should not be put out to attract cranes if they live near power lines, near a busy street or congested areas where cranes walk down or alongside the road, or where cranes crossing the road might get hit by a car.

Many roads in town are dangerous for cranes. Cars driving too fast on roads, with poor visibility due to blind corners and hills, may suddenly encounter cranes in the road or along side the road. Cranes in the road can be struck, killing or injuring the crane and potentially damaging the car and injuring occupants.  Panicked cranes can fly into roads and be hit by passing cars.

Power lines are a major mortality factor for cranes and many are killed or badly injured crashing into them when they fly off in a panic. I have seen cranes with their jaws just hanging, a severe injury most likely caused by catching their beak on a power line. These cranes most likely die a horrible death.

Cranes are wonderful to have around, but attracting them into a busy neighborhood not only endangers the cranes, but also may cause problems for people who have gone to a lot of trouble putting in elaborate gardens. Cranes may destroy garden plants and flowers in search for worms.

Use common sense and err on the side of keeping cranes safe. If you live near hazards to cranes, don’t put corn out for them.  The cranes will find sufficient food to survive without the addition of corn to their diet.

Photos below by Nina Faust, Kachemak Crane Watch
All photos taken on Inspiration Ridge Preserve

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Video–Unusual Male Behavior while raising colts

A Kachemak Crane Watch cooperator daily watching a pair of nesting Sandhill Cranes has reported very unusual behavior by the male. The male Sandhill Crane in this Homer Alaska pair does not  feed one of the two chicks as is the norm with most pairs. In fact, he has been downright mean to them. He pecks them and chases them. Two resident eagles sit atop a tree above their foraging area nearly all day every day.  Is he an aberrant male, or does he have a different strategy to keep the family safe?  Check out this behavior in the new video, “Sandhill Crane–Bad Dad?”

 

New Genus for Sandhill Crane

New Genus for Sandhill Crane

The genus Antigone has been split from Grus. Scientific names for Whooping and Common cranes remain unchanged, but Sandhill Crane has changed from Grus canadensis to Antigone canadensis. The other members of Antigone are White-naped Crane*, Brolga*, and Sarus Crane*. Antigone is the name of Oedipus’s daughter/half-sister in Greek mythology.

The above is from the ABA Blog found at: http://blog.aba.org/2016/07/2016-aou-supplement.html

Nina Faust's photo.

New Video–Sandhill Crane Brooding Young and other news

Sandhill Crane colts have been hatching the past week and a half.  At the Beluga Slough boardwalk below the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, visitors can enjoy two Sandhill Crane pairs that both have two colts.

Around Kachemak Bay several reports of eagle problems has been recorded by Kachemak Crane Watch.  One adult crane was killed and its egg destroyed by an eagle.  Another report described a “pack” of five eagles hunting a Sandhill Crane pair.  One of the adults flew off with the five eagles close behind.  Fortunately for this pair, the crane managed to escape.  Several Kachemak Crane Watch cooperators have reported higher than normal numbers of eagles this summer harassing cranes.  Could be that eagle numbers are up after the murre die off and are now hungry.

Kachemak Crane Watch’s new video, “Sandhill Cranes:  Female Brooding Young Colts” is a closeup look at an afternoon nap with the colts.  Sandhill Cranes have to brood their very young colts frequently during the day. When they are just a few days old, running around with their parents tires out these tiny fuzzballs, and they need naps throughout the day, especially if it is windy or the weather is bad. The little colts cannot yet thermo-regulate their body temperatures.  Enjoy and please share with others: