Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) are a great big interesting bird that I have been in contact with since I was a boy. When my family moved into the country when I was eight I used to love slogging through the neighbor’s marsh. One time I did this I got too close to a Sandhill Crane nest. I watched one of the cranes leave the nest and slink low through the vegetation to come over to its mate, which was making a racket. After the two birds joined forces they turned to me getting close and in my path.
I had no desire to bother their nest, but I did not want to change course. I do like splashing around in wetlands, but it is hard going and I didn’t want to lengthen my journey home. I decided to head straight towards the cranes who were directly in my way. These were Greater Sandhill Cranes and they were not much shorter than I was, and they have very sharp beaks. I was intimidated, but I had a walking stick and I was determined to continue. For about two hundred yards the birds kept a safe distance in front of me, while slowly retreating. They probably felt good about corralling this dangerous human, and saving their eggs. When I was far enough away from their nest they departed.
Last week, about thirty years later, a similar thing happened, except this time I’m was in a car, and the pair of cranes have a small, brown colt (chick), and I’m driving an SUV. The family of cranes was by the side of the road and my approach sent the parents into a panic. The birds were in a farm field with no cover, but there was cover on the other side of the road. One, then both of the parents went into the road to stop my approach and lead their chick to cover, but the chick was too scared to go.
Still the parents held their ground, one crane returned to the colt and the colt ran across the road. The other parent decided the car was hungry and offered itself as a sacrifice by pretending to be injured. At the range it was pretended, any predator, even me jumping out of the car, would have been able to pounce and dispatch the crane quickly. I was surprised at the silliness of the display under the circumstances, but impressed with the bird’s protective nature over their offspring. I felt a bit bad about bothering the birds, but they were in the road, and I came to a complete stop and even reversed a short distance, so the colt would feel more comfortable crossing.