NEW BORN: Montana’s Sandhill Crane Babies
Photos and article by Carol Polich
PROTECTING THE EGGS
Sitting in the middle of the pond, rife with cut cattails, the exposed sandhill crane nest was constantly guarded by the alert adult cranes who took turns nesting on two eggs. A redtail hawk flew from above, scoping the scene for prey material. Canada geese maneuvered a landing on the pond. In hot pursuit, the adult crane immediately chased the geese away with tenacious running skill, giant wings flapping, and outstretched neck and beak, ready to defend her protected habitat.
The protecting adult cranes gave all their attention to the first born who flourished for twenty-four hours, having the nest and food for itself by being the only colt (a crane chick is a colt).
SECOND BORN ARRIVES
Not as coordinated as colt number one, the second colt flails with pink, ungainly legs as it takes an unbalanced tumble into the world. For over a day, sibling rivalry came to the forefront with big brother continually harassing his sibling. Parents were finding it tough to feed both, but after a day and a half of sibling battle, the two colts became best buddies.
LEAVING THE NEST
Within a few hours of the second birth, the adult cranes lured their babes into the water. They swam like it was an innate, lifelong adventure. Effortlessly, they manipulated their fluffy little bodies between the “forest” of cattails.
The colts were never far away, whether touched by the parents’ beaks or found within encompassing adult legs. The crane adults were forever attentive, rarely leaving the colts to their own devices. The protective adults always pecked near their children with unceasing vigilance.
Feeding two colts was a constant chore for both adults. Crickets, worms, and a variety of insects and even baby mice were on the meat menu. But when cleaning up the nest, shell shards were offered to the youngsters. Though less juicy and more crunchy, they added calcium to the colts’ diet.