About 4-feet tall with a wingspan of nearly 6-feet. Color: crane-gray. The most distinctive marking is the red crown. Long black legs, big black feet and a long, stout, black bill. This season they number a bit less than 20,000 individuals.
Over the years I’ve written about our cranes for the Delta County Independent and of course, they’re often the subject within my three books. It’s no surprise that there is a great deal of information about these birds. Loads and loads of facts! But perhaps the most important is that ours are Greater Sandhill Cranes while the Lesser Sandhill Cranes of Nebraska fame number over 500,000. They look much alike except ours are a bit larger.
That’s enough to maintain one’s interest. But I’m a “craniac”! That’s exactly what the term implies! Fossil evidence for these magnificent birds indicates that they’ve been around for about eleven million years. They were here before the latest glaciers formed, when the Rocky Mountains were being uplifted, when the rivers flowered differently than they do today, they soared above the Wooly Mammoth and the Saber Tooth Tiger. They were here long, long before humans even dreamed of this continent.
And we’ve attributed our highest values to them: fidelity, longevity, stamina, courage, parental capabilities, beauty and grace. The cranes’ dances have been mimicked by humans in every part of the world and they’re the subject of myth and legend portraying our highest aspirations.
When our cranes come to us each spring, such thoughts flood my mind. I listen to their unmistakable, warbling cry far above me. I watch them descend— legs dangling, wings cupped. And as I write this column, I shiver in anticipation.