Birds of Ages

During one’s short stint on our blue planet, some days stand out because of sadness and pain, others for the joy they bring. As humans we are privileged to witness natural phenomena likely to give wing to our imagination. Colorado’s San Luis Valley with its stunning scenery happens to be the stage where, for eons, the twice annual migration of the Rocky Mountain population of Sandhill Cranes to and from their summer breeding grounds takes place. In March of this year, I was again fortunate enough to immerse myself in this spectacle. Unlike a previous time, my hopes were not disappointed.

Between 18 and 25 thousand cranes might appear in any given year near the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge (my 18 to 25 thousand reasons to keep returning). The vast majority are Greater Sandhill Cranes, not easily distinguished from their slightly smaller Lesser and Canadian cousins. On their way to the Greater Yellowstone area where they will raise the next generation, they pause between the middle of February and beginning of April to eat, eat, eat. On the refuge, fields of barley and wheat are mowed to coincide with their arrival, and the cranes obligingly gather early in the morning and again before sunset to fill their tummies. The feeding fields are wonderful places to observe these big birds, with their lanky limbs and crimson caps.

Not immediately obvious, their myriad numbers are composed of families, consisting of an adult pair and last year’s offspring (typically one). Mating for life, which can span two to three decades, spring feelings for one another are expressed by droll dances whose elements include hops of varying height, flaps of wings that span up to 78 inches, and contortions of long necks. After spending the winter with their descendants in the vicinity of New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, and undertaking spring migration together, the juvenile is forced out by its parents, to fend for itself, until it starts its own family, between the ages of two and seven.

Full of commotion and commingling, these gatherings are furthermore sites of characteristic concerts. Each arriving or departing group of cranes is accompanied by guttural sounds unlike any others, emanating from long, coiled tracheas that transform the tones and attach to them an otherworldly quality. Even when the feathery hordes disperse to wet meadows or other mid-day destinations, their calls permeate the air. Across many miles, the awed spectator is never out of earshot of the vocalizations that evoke ancient history. For 2.5 million years these living relics and their ancestors have witnessed the earth’s ups and downs, and if we knew how to listen to their stories, we might learn valuable lessons about life, love, and loss.

55 thoughts on “Birds of Ages

  1. Oh, to be migratory. I am envious of these birds! I will have to add San Luis Valley to my CO bucket list.

    When we saw our first crane family in Grand Teton last year, they were brown, not the usual grey. We were told it’s due to the crustaceans in their summer diet, adding a reddish hue to their plumage.

    Beautiful shot of the cranes in flight! Cheers. 😀

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Shannon,
      Nice to hear from you! I hope you will make it there one day. My wish is to travel to Nebraska, where hundreds of thousands of cranes can be found during migration.
      Let’s spread our wings and fly,.. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Es gibt kaum etwas Schöneres als Kraniche.
    Du hast ihre Schönheit wunderbar in Worte gefasst und fantastische Bilder dazu gestellt.
    Ich wünsche dir noch viel solcher Erlebnisse, die ich hier in Deutschland ebenfalls mit “unseren” Kranichen erlebe.
    Danke, liebe Tanja!
    Liebe Grüße

    Liked by 2 people

    • Herzlichen Dank für Deinen netten Kommentar, liebe Brigitte. Leider hatte ich Kraniche in Deutschland nie zu Gesicht bekommen, und als ich sie dann zum ersten Mal in diesen Riesenscharen zu sehen bekam, eröffnete sich mir eine völlig neue Welt. Besser zu spät als nie! Ich hoffe jedenfalls, noch öfter in den Genuß ihrer Präsenz zu kommen.
      Sei herzlich gegrüßt,

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What a magnificent sight and I can only imagine what it must be like to see such an enormous number of these large graceful birds in flight.

    Lucky you, Tanja (is all I can say) 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree, Neil: WOW! For me, there are natural phenomena that cannot be matched by anything the human mind has ever conceived. If only we could stop to be so destructive. Only think of the Passenger Pigeon!
      I hope the cranes will continue their million-year journey!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You have some wonderful photos of these graceful beauties, and I hope you get over to Nebraska to see them there. They were almost mythical to me when I lived in New York, until I saw two of them unexpectedly, while driving around rural central Florida, on vacation one January. They were in someone’s open, woodsy yard, where there was a small pond, very close to the road, too. Then a few years ago we ventured to the southeast corner of Arizona, again in winter, and saw a huge group coming in to roost one evening, at a known winter roosting spot. What an inspiring sight, and the sound….that may have been the best. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks a lot, Lynn. I was actually disappointed with my close-up photos, but since I am not a good photographer, I cannot really complain.
      Whenever I see cranes, I am overcome by their beauty and long presence on our earth. It is hard to decide whether they look or sound better-I think it is the combination that conspires to make them so special.
      Best wishes,


      • Ja, ich wünsche mir schon seit langem mal, die Zugvögel aus der Nähe zu beobachten, wobei die Nähe dann ja relativ ist. Ich glaube auch nicht, daß man von diesen Begegnungen je genug bekommen könnte. Wie schön für dich und dann noch in dieser spektakulären Landschaft. (K)Ein Traum 🙂 LG, Almuth

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Die Fotos sind fantastisch geworden! Hast du so ein gutes Tele oder warst du so nah dran. Und was für eine Anzahl von Vögeln. Da merkt man wieder, Amerika ist groß. Ich kann mir nicht vorstellen, daß man bei uns so viele Vögel auf einmal sehen kann. Beeindruckend. Ich würde wahrscheinlich heulen vor Rührung 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Das Besondere an diesem Ort ist, daß es möglich ist, die Vögel aus der Nähe zu beobachten, aber meine Kamera kann sie schon noch etwas näher heranholen. Und das mit der Rührung ergeht mir ganz genauso-Tränen der Freude und Dankbarkeit fließen bei mir schon öfter.

      Liked by 1 person

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