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Baby Sandhill Cranes

Birds and wildlife fascinate me. I enjoy observing them and photographing them wherever I go. I share what I learn here.

A baby sandhill crane keeping close to the parent who is finding food.

A baby sandhill crane keeping close to the parent who is finding food.

Sandhill Crane Chicks in Florida

We feel so privileged to see the sandhill cranes daily around Solivita and in our backyard. This spring, the arrival of the new chick seemed about a month late. We thought it was due to the extra cold weather we had this winter but worried that something had happened to the eggs. There are coyotes around, also alligators, bobcats, and even panthers. The last week or so, we kept seeing a single adult crane so we hoped that meant the other crane was nesting.

Yesterday, we saw the new chick on its first outing. Wait a minute, there are two chicks! Wow, our crane pair had twins this year. I admired them from across the lake. I hope my neighbors over there don't think I'm a peeping tom.

Today they brought the twins over to our side of the lake. I ran out with my digital camera and snapped lots of photos. Even though they stay pretty calm and let me get within about 6 or 7 feet, my pictures weren't the best. I get so excited, that at first, I forgot to put it in the action mode to minimize blurring from the moving cranes. Then I wasn't holding the camera as steadily as I should. Some were good shots though. I'm glad the cranes tolerate my paparazzi behavior so well.

Fortunately, they returned the next day, so I could get some better photos.


The Cranes Construct a Large Nest on the Ground

This nest is on a small island in a drainage ditch.  The parents take turns sitting on the eggs which gives the other crane a chance to go forage for food.

This nest is on a small island in a drainage ditch. The parents take turns sitting on the eggs which gives the other crane a chance to go forage for food.

Baby Sandhill Crane - in Poinciana, Florida

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The baby cranes were quite late arriving this spring. This little fellow is less than a week old. Originally I saw a pair of babies with the parents, but one was curled up limply on the ground. The next time I saw the cranes, there was only one baby. The other one had died. How sad.

sandhill_baby
sandhill_baby

Here's the baby crane from spring 2011 with his dad. When the baby sat down in the grass, the parent nudged it with his beak to get it to stand up. The young crane continued to sit until the larger bird grasped its tiny wing with its huge beak and pulled the baby to a standing position. I'd not observed that behavior before. Perhaps after the loss of the twin, the parent was anxious about the baby laying around and wanted it to be more active.

Sandhill Crane Babies in Central Florida

2010 Observations of the Baby Sandhill Cranes

I've been following the growth of the baby sandhill cranes this past month. They were late arriving and I assume the cranes just postponed nesting and breeding since we had several freezes in Central Florida. Maybe they had eggs in February like the previous year, but lost them to the cold weather. I've been here for five winters and this was our first freeze. Anyway in March, there were finally little fuzzballs following the parent cranes around. Our pair of cranes surprised us with twins this year.

I took lots of photos whenever they came by the house. Guess I'm the crane version of paparazzi. When the babies were really small, I'd hear the parents making a purring kind of noise in their throats. This might have helped keep the babies close to them or it might have been a warning sound to me to keep back. When a parent would raise its head to full height and look directly at me, I figured it was time to back away.

Now that the babies are more in their pre-teen stage (no feathers yet), the parents let me get closer with the camera. They are hungry little fellows, quick to pluck a grub away from the parent who pecked around in the sandy soil to bring it up. It seems this year that the cranes are making pretty deep holes to bring up the grubs and making quite a mess of the golf course fairways. I'm careful when hitting the golf ball as I'd sure hate to hit one of the little guys. A golf ball at full speed could be lethal.

Watch out for Cranes And the Babies in the Street

The cranes aren't very road wise, so drivers need to slow down and watch for them. Sometimes, they blend in with the gray pavement and you have to be alert to spot them.

The cranes aren't very road wise, so drivers need to slow down and watch for them. Sometimes, they blend in with the gray pavement and you have to be alert to spot them.

The Twins Are Quite Young in This Shot

They grow very fast, several inches every day. It shows the most in the length of their legs.  When they are downy like this, you know they are just in their first week or so of life.

They grow very fast, several inches every day. It shows the most in the length of their legs. When they are downy like this, you know they are just in their first week or so of life.

Even the Larger Crane Chicks Get Fed by the Parents

The parents teach the chicks to hunt for food but also feed them over a long period of time as they are growing.

The parents teach the chicks to hunt for food but also feed them over a long period of time as they are growing.

Reading About the Cranes

Since moving to Florida, I've read everything I could get my hands on about Sandhill cranes. You can ask your library to interlibrary loan these books (or buy them on Amazon).

Here are some titles that I'm hoping to read soon:

  • On Ancient Wings: The Sandhill Cranes of North America
  • Those of the Gray Wind: The Sandhill Cranes
  • Following the Sandhill Cranes in Colorado: Enticed into Birding

My Friend's Observation of the Cranes

My friend Wilda told me, "I have Sand Hill Cranes in my backyard. We have a wetland/pond. I have seen at least three babies born in the 9 years we have lived here in Florida. I have taken lots of pictures.

I love these birds. I love their calls. I have pictures of the parents teaching the baby (at least 8-10weeks old) fly. It's just amazing to watch them communicate to him, show him, and then watch him do it. It's been one of the best things that encouraged me to go back to photography as a hobby.

It broke my heart this year to see a dead baby in their nest, and they just left it, walked away with one baby. (The odd part is that there are 2 ducks sitting in the nest now, one on each side of the dead baby chick) Last year, the Cranes walked away from their eggs (unhatched) altogether. I was totally confused, but then I read that sometimes the babies don't hatch.

The first time I saw them nesting and got involved by photographing them, a gator or maybe an eagle, red-shouldered hawk, osprey, or a coyote got the babies. It was just heartbreaking to hear the parents cry out for days, and they would keep looking and crying. I was hysterical crying myself. Weeks later, they were able to nest again and had one chick that time.

Baby Crane Taking a Cooling Dip in the Lake

You rarely see the adult cranes in the water except to get a drink. The babies can swim and will get into the water to cool themselves off on really hot days.

You rarely see the adult cranes in the water except to get a drink. The babies can swim and will get into the water to cool themselves off on really hot days.

Sandhill Crane Chicks Running to Catch up with Their Mother

Their little legs are no match for the long stride of the adult cranes. Usually the parents are quite leisurely in their progress, searching for food as they go along.

Their little legs are no match for the long stride of the adult cranes. Usually the parents are quite leisurely in their progress, searching for food as they go along.

2013 Baby Sandhill Cranes

I'm keeping an eye on two nests this spring (March 2013). The one nest is in a canal near the Walgreens. As you can see in the above photo, the cranes like to nest with water around them.

The second nest is on the golf course just past the #2 green. As we drive by in the golf cart, we note that the crane is still on the nest. It's not much of a nest, just a few sticks and the crane covers most of it. The nest is on the ground adjacent to a small lake. There's no cover or brush around, just some tall trees. It seems really exposed.

Update April 2, 2013 - the crane has left the nest. We drove over closer in the golf cart but didn't see any egg shells. Hopefully, the egg hatched and we will soon see the parents and the baby crane walking around hunting food.

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Baby Cranes... Almost Grown Up

In November, I saw the sandhill cranes dancing. It was right in my backyard and a family of cranes came poking along. Their focus was on extracting grubs from the ground, so they poked and poked with those long beaks into the St. Augustine grass. Then one of them noticed me in the screen room. He, or she approached the screen, looking fixedly at me. Probably someone has been feeding them grain, which you aren't supposed to do. Anyway I feared it would poke at the screen, so I moved away abruptly.

At that point, the crane turned and flapped his wings. Another crane in the group responded with a wing flap and a hop. They both hopped and flapped for several minutes and then the young cranes joined in. These were the cute twin cranes from the spring, but now almost indestinguishable from the adult cranes. The four of them postured, hopped, flapped their wings and ducked their heads at each other with open beaks. Quite a display.

I wish I'd had a movie camera at hand. Since they kept up their dancing for awhile, I hastened in for my camera which was just inside. When I came back out, they had settled down and returned to grass poking. As I stepped outside the screen room to take a better picture of the group, they noticed me again. Two of them gave a token hop and wing flap which I captured on camera. That was the end of the show.

I'm not sure if the activity was from being startled by my original abrupt movement or what. Previously I'd thought the dance was supposed to be a crane courtship activity. Since this was a family group of four cranes, that didn't fit unless the young cranes were just practicing in response to their parents' behavior. Anyway I felt quite priviledged to have seen it.

The Young Crane Takes a Year to Reach Adulthood

Notice how long this chick's legs are! It still has a lot of growing to do to reach the size of its parent. Soon, it will change to real feathers from the downy stage. After a year of growing, you can hardly tell the parents and their young apart.

Notice how long this chick's legs are! It still has a lot of growing to do to reach the size of its parent. Soon, it will change to real feathers from the downy stage. After a year of growing, you can hardly tell the parents and their young apart.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Virginia Allain

Have You Seen the Baby Cranes?

ruth kling on March 15, 2017:

today i saw two older more gray chicks...yesterday, we observed two brown babies both in our yard on our cul de sac...it is exciting to observe them and watch them feed...the little guys keep flapping their wings...i guess this is practice...precious and fun...

Anna from chichester on August 05, 2014:

Hat beautiful animals and how lucky you are to be able to see them in their own environment right next to you! I have to say that your photography is absolutely brilliant and I throrouly enjoyed reading your lens :)

gottaloveit2 on November 28, 2013:

What a wonderfully educational and fun article to read. I had no idea these birds ever existed until I saw them in Tampa. Thank you, as always, Virginia for sharing your knowledge.

SteveKaye on June 18, 2013:

I came back for another look. The photos and videos are wonderful.

Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on June 18, 2013:

@SheGetsCreative: I do feel fortunate to see them almost daily in my yard or when I'm out on the golf course.

Angela F from Seattle, WA on June 17, 2013:

Great pics - how fun that you get to have a front row seat to the babies first months.

Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on April 10, 2013:

@annieangel1: What a marvelous effort. Thanks for telling me about it.

The cranes here in Florida are very comfortable around humans so I can approach within about 8 to 10 feet to get my photos, even when they have new babies. I have no doubt they can adequately defend themselves with that wicked beak if I went any closer.

Ann from Yorkshire, England on April 10, 2013:

absolutely adorable. There is a nature reserve here in the UK that rescues crane eggs that are abandoned, one they hatch the keeper dress as adult cranes to feed the chicks.

moonlitta on April 10, 2013:

Cute, and funny. If they wen to school, they'd be the like tallest kids in class:)

AlleyCatLane on April 09, 2013:

They are so cute! I love watching birds. How neat that you got to photograph this family.

WBT morocco on October 23, 2012:

How nice to see those beautiful birds growing up

Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on July 02, 2012:

@Computersloth: Who can resist these cute baby cranes!

Computersloth on July 02, 2012:

Those are really cool. I like to take pictures of nature stuff, like lookin' at 'em too!

SteveKaye on April 30, 2012:

Absolutely outstanding! I selected this lens in response to today's "Honesty" quest. I can honestly say this page is so good I wish I had made it. You have set a standard for excellence.

Shorebirdie from San Diego, CA on April 13, 2012:

They really are cute!

Renaissance Woman from Colorado on January 27, 2012:

Sandhill cranes are such favorites of mine. I was astonished the first time I experienced the sound of their voices (while living in Michigan). A great place to experience a huge number of these cranes during the winter is the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. And, as you mentioned, Nebraska is the major happening place during the spring migration. I hope to travel there to camp out overnight in one of the photography blinds. Really enjoyed your photos of the young cranes and the commentary of your experiences in close proximity to them. A rare privilege.

julieannbrady on November 26, 2011:

Sandhill Cranes are so inspiring ... I actually have an art screen and an art bench which have these cranes.

JoleneBelmain on November 20, 2011:

Those cranes are just gorgeous... love the picture of the twins having a race. Too cute! ~~~~BLESSED~~~~

Wanda Fitzgerald from Central Florida on August 11, 2011:

We have Sandhill Cranes on the grounds where I work. Haven't seen any babies but always the same 3 adults. Funny they will sleep with their heads under their wing on one foot in the parking lot and not have a care in the world as the cars drive by. Makes me wish my company hadn't built on their land.

anonymous on July 20, 2011:

well i came home one day and saw what looked like a duck with long legs going into my bushes i folowed them and couldent figure out what hey were... i asked my mom and she said that thay might have been baby sandhill cranes. i googled it and yup! thats what they were! they were really cool looking and took big long strides when they ran.(:

pawpaw911 on June 03, 2011:

Love the photos. We have a Sandhill crane near here at a zoo, that is nesting. Hope to get a pic of the babies when they hatch.

Sensitive Fern on May 30, 2011:

These babies are super cute! I hope to get out to see the Sandhill Crane migration in Nebraska some day. *Blessed and listed on my Creative Squid blog.

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on May 24, 2011:

Lol some of your images are just so wonderful that I cannot help but smile looking at them. Beautiful.

Diane Cass from New York on April 28, 2011:

LOL! They are so CUTE with those funny long necks. I was my first Sandhill Cranes last summer when we vacationed in Wisconsin. I love them!

Snakesmom on April 28, 2011:

My favorite is the picture of the little baby twin cranes, so cute. Nice work.

puzzlerpaige on April 28, 2011:

I've seen the Sandhill Cranes only a couple of times near Bunnell. A head-turning sight. Also, earlier this year we *think* we saw a Whooping Crane (one of the non-migratory whoopers of Florida). Those Sandhill Crane chicks are sooooo cute.

Nancy Carol Brown Hardin from Las Vegas, NV on April 28, 2011:

Great lens...I particularly love the shot of the baby cranes running to catch up with Mama! Beautiful photos of yours and others on this lens. Thanks for sharing.

Ann from Yorkshire, England on April 24, 2011:

love that mousepad - great lens

Laurel Johnson from Washington KS on March 13, 2011:

I just loved this lens. Crane families are so interesting to watch as they go about their daily activities. Wonderful pictures. Lensrolled to my Sand Hills Crane lens.

Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on January 14, 2011:

@anonymous: The baby crane usually stays with the parents for less than a year, then it goes out on its own. I haven't witnessed them driving the grown baby away, but many animals make it clear to the young when it is time to leave.

With the cranes, the young crane doesn't leave until it is as large as the parents and you can hardly tell them apart.

anonymous on January 14, 2011:

We have a pair of sand cranes that we have watched raise a baby. The baby has gotten bigger now and the mom is being mean and chasing it away. Is this normal?

LisaDH on August 20, 2010:

Love your photos! The babies are adorable. :-)

Rhonda Albom from New Zealand on March 31, 2010:

Really beautiful bird and lens. The babies are so cute, especially when they run.

Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on March 30, 2010:

The babies really are adorable.You pictures are awesome! I love the one where the babies are running to catch up with there mother. Angel Blessed and added to my Squid Angel Mouse Tracks lens.

Mary Beth Granger from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA on March 30, 2010:

I love this lens! Thanks for sharing your photos of the twin baby cranes. Very cool!

WindyWintersHubs from Vancouver Island, BC on March 29, 2010:

What a happy story and I enjoyed see the baby cranes. It's really wonderful that you have the perfect backyard to enjoy nature. Have a Happy Easter weekend! :)

oztoo lm on March 29, 2010:

Lovely story and photo's. It's always such a pleasure to witness nature like this. 5*****

Louis Wery from Sarasota, Florida USA on January 29, 2010:

We enjoy Sandhill cranes around our lake but have not been able to photo the baby chicks. You got some great photos and I enjoyed reading the story. Thank you for sharing this experience.

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