[Published in 1927: Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin 135: 241-253]
The sandhill crane has a very peculiar breeding range, or rather two distinct breeding ranges, separated by an area of more than 600 miles wide, in which it does not now breed. Its extensive breeding range in the northwestern States and southern Canada and its more restricted breeding range in Florida, the Gulf States, and Cuba are probably the remnants of what was formerly a continuous breeding range.
Since this chapter was written James L. Peters (1925) has shown that these two separate ranges are occupied by birds which are probably subspecifically distinct, but, as their habits are doubtless similar, I prefer to let this stand as a life history of both forms.
The advances of civilization, the drainage of swamps, and the cultivation of prairies have doubtless driven this wary, old prairie scout away from all the central portions of the United States; and they are still driving it farther west and north into the unsettled wilderness; the wilderness is fast disappearing and with it will go the cranes and many other interesting forms of wild life. According to Prof. Wells W. Cooke (1914):
Its numbers have decreased decidedly in the past 30 years, and it is now rare as a breeder in the southern half of the above-defined breeding range, although within the last 10 years it has nested in southern Michigan (1907), northern Indiana (1905), northern Iowa (1907), northwestern Nebraska (1904), and central Colorado (1903).
It nested in Ohio as late as 1897, in Louisiana in 1907, and in Alabama in 1911.
It is interesting to note that it still breeds commonly in Florida where it can still find large tracts of uninhabited, open plains; here it will perhaps make its last stand. While driving through the "flat woods," or pine barrens, and the extensive inland prairies of Brevard County in April, 1902, I was greatly impressed with the similarity of these plains to the prairie regions of North Dakota, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. We first saw the cranes in the "flat woods," through which we drove for 6 or 7 miles, flat, level country with an open, park like growth of large, long-leafed pines; among the scattered pines the ground was covered with a low growth of saw palmetto about knee high and with large areas of tall fine grass. Occasionally among the pines we found open spaces covered with prairie grass, or wet meadows, or saw-grass sloughs. Beyond the pines we drove for 8 miles over the open prairie to the marshes of the St. Johns River; the country here was as flat and level as any we had seen in North Dakota, but not quite as boundless, for always there were some trees within sight in the distance. Roving bands of wild cattle, which we were told were dangerous, and an occasional mounted cowboy added a western tinge. The rich song of the southern meadowlark suggested, but did not equal, that of his gifted western relative, and the loud familiar whistle of a pair of upland plover added to the charm and made us dream of happy days on the northern prairies. Sandhill cranes flew over us in the "flat woods," making the air ring with their loud trumpetings and we saw several pairs of them walking about with stately tread in the wet meadows or around the saw-grass sloughs on the prairies. The cranes were undoubtedly nesting in or around these wet places but we did not succeed in finding a nest. Such is the congenial home of the sandhill crane in this and many other parts of Florida.
The first intimation that we usually have of the advent of the crane is the loud trumpeting or croaking that seems to shake the air for miles. But soon we begin to see the birds themselves, usually in pairs, even at this early season. Their food now is chiefly rosepips, and as they stalk over the bare plains gathering this manna of the feathered race, ample opportunity is offered for observation. At first one sees little to note beyond their excessive wariness, but as the warmer weather quickens their feeling, these majestic stalkers, these stately trumpeters, may often be seen so far forgetting their dignity as to wheel about and dance, flapping their wings and shouting as they "honor their partners," and in various ways contrive to exhibit an extraordinary combination of awkwardness and agility. This dance is no doubt one of the courting maneuvers for I have observed it only during the pairing season.
Stephen S. Visher (1910) writes:
The sandhill crane is one of the most conspicuous birds of the prairie region. Every farmer boy knows its call, and on fair days has seen large flocks soaring at great heights, slowly passing northward. Constantly their unsurpassed calls drift down to earth. When only a slight wind is blowing, these rich, buglelike notes can be heard father than the bird can be seen. Several times I have examined, for some moments in vain, the horizon before the authors sailed in view. On windy or rainy days, the flocks fly low and swiftly in a direct line, and each individual croaks in turn. Thus slowly the music moves along the undulating, curving line.
The mating habits of this bird are very interesting. In Sanborn County, South Dakota, I have often watched the mating dance; each time with increasing interest. In the early spring, just after the break of dawn, the groups that were separated widely, for safety, during the night, begin flying toward the chosen dancing ground. These flocks of six or eight fly low and give constantly their famous, rolling call. The dancing ground that I knew best was situated on a large, low hill in the middle of a pasture of a section in extent. From this hill the surface of the ground for half a mile or more in every direction could be seen. As soon as two or three groups had reached this hill a curious dance commenced. Several raise their heads high in the air and walk around and around slowly. Suddenly the heads are lowered to the ground and the birds become great bouncing balls. Hopping high in the air, part of the time with raised wings, and part with dropping, they cross and recross each other's paths. Slowly the speed and wildness increases, and the hopping over each other, until it becomes a blur. The croaking, which commenced only after the dancing became violent, has become a noise. The performance continues, increasing in speed for a few minutes, and then rapidly dies completely out, only to start again upon the arrival of more recruits. By 7 o'clock all have arrived, and then for an hour or so a number are constantly dancing. Occasionally the whole flock of 200 or so break into a short spell of crazy skipping and hopping. By 9 o'clock all are tired and the flock begins to break up into groups of from four to eight and these groups slowly feed to the windward, diverging slowly, or fly to some distance.
Nesting.--The only nests of the sandhill crane that I have seen have been in Florida. Here the cranes nest in the shallow ponds in the open flat, pine woods, or on the prairies, though much more commonly in the prairie ponds. There are two types of ponds which they seem to prefer; these are well illustrated by two nests found on March 21, 1925, on the Kissimmee prairie, near Bassenger, in Okeechobee County. The first nest was in a small shallow pond, only about a foot deep, overgrown with an open, scanty growth of "pond cypress," a small plant with a woody stem and feathery leaves that grows only a foot or two above the water. The bulky nest was in plain sight from the shore of the pond; the crane had seen us and left it as we approached. It was a large pile of dead reeds, rushes, tufts of grass and entire plants of pond cypress, torn up with the roots; it was built up 6 or 8 inches above the water and measured 38 by 33 inches in diameter.
The second nest was out near the middle of a large pond which was overgrown with a dense growth of pickerel weed (Pontederia) in water 2 feet deep or more. It was so well concealed that my guide walked within 10 or 15 yards of it, to the leeward, without seeing it or flushing the bird; but, as I walked by on the windward side considerably farther away from it, she flew off with the usual series of rolling guttural croaks; the eggs were on the point of hatching, which may have caused her to sit more closely. The nest was a huge pile of dead reeds and rushes, built up 6 or 8 inches above the water, and measuring 60 by 45 inches. Ponds of these two types are numerous on the Florida prairies, the pickerel weed ponds being much commoner; but one must not expect to find a crane's nest in every pond. Much hard tramping is necessary which becomes very tiresome in thick vegetation and water knee deep. The most efficient way to hunt the nests is on horseback, which gives one a better outlook and saves much hard work. One day in Charlotte County we worked all day, seeing no less than 30 cranes, but did not find a single nest.
F. M. Phelps (1914) writes that the sandhill crane is still rated as a common bird in Lee County, Florida, and observes that:
The nesting of this bird is very uncertain. It may begin in late February or it may be deferred to April or May. Mr. Green told me of finding a nest early in June, 1912, with fresh eggs. I am inclined to think the amount of water in the nesting ponds is an important factor. The bird seems to require that its nesting site be surrounded by water. Twice after heavy rains I found them scratching up nests in grassy ponds which they abandoned without using when the ponds began to dry up. Three occupied nests were found, on April 4 and 8, with eggs far advanced in incubation, and on April 12 with fresh eggs. In this latter case the birds had scratched up no less than four nests in a small flag pond I could throw a stone across. Why the extra nests, two of which were only about half complete, is a question.
S. F. Rathbun writes to me:
On June 12, 1889, I was working over a very large marsh situated about 8 miles southeast of Eden, Manitoba. This marsh was a famous breeding place for many of the ducks and other water birds. As we were wading waist deep in the water some distance from the edge of the marsh, a sandhill crane arose some ways off and, keeping our eyes fixed on the spot which was soon reached, after a short search the bird's nest was found. This was made of a very large mass of dead rushes and contained one egg. This I left but on again visiting the spot a few days later, found it had disappeared. This nest was about 4 feet across its base and had a height of at least 2 feet. It was very substantial, as on my second visit to it I found that it would nearly sustain my weight. In 1889 the section in which the marsh was located was virgin country, there being hardly a dozen settlers in an area of several hundred square miles.
Dr. A. G. Prill (1922) has studied the nesting habits of this crane in Oregon and writes:
The region covered in my investigation, covered an area of 36 miles long by 5 to ten miles wide, or about 180 square miles. Ten pairs of sandhill cranes were nesting in this territory. Warner Valley has some half dozen lakes, surrounded by tules and flags, and wild meadow lands, all of which is covered with water, but here and there small islands were found, which were always above high water. The places selected for the nest of this crane were generally several miles out in the marshes, and the nests located were all on the tops of large masses of dried tules and flags, and grass, which had undoubtedly been piled up in this manner the year previous in harvesting the hay crop. These masses were generally 5 feet in diameter and at least 12 inches above high water mark, and in the center a slight depression is made upon which the two eggs or young are found.
A Colorado nest is described by Edward R. Warren (1904) as follows:
In the western part of Gunnison County, Colo., between the slope of Ragged Mountain and Muddy Creek, is a high, rolling plateau, of an elevation of 8,000 feet or more. In amongst the hollows of this plateau are many little lakes or ponds, varying in size from 50 to 60 feet in diameter to 100 yards or more. During the past three seasons I have been about this country very much, surveying, and every season have seen sandhill cranes (Grus mexicana) flying overhead and heard their melodious (?) notes, but did not find a nest until June 5, 1903, when, while chopping out a line across the top of a little knoll just south of a small pond, my assistant disturbed a crane. This kept flying about and croaking so anxiously as to make him think there was a nest there, and going to see he found it, with two eggs. When I came along he showed it to me. Out about 20 feet from the shore was the nest, on a bare space among some tussocks of grass which lay more or less in a line. The water was not very deep but the mud was and I could not get to the nest as there was nothing of which to make a bridge, so I had to content myself with a careful examination from the shore. The nest was irregular in shape, about 2 feet across and made of dead marsh grass. On this platform, such as it was practically, lay the two eggs, looking, my man said, something like turkey eggs.
Eggs.--The sandhill crane usually lays two eggs, sometimes only one, and very rarely three. The shape varies from ovate to elongate ovate. The shell is smooth, with little or no gloss, but there are generally a few pimples on it and sometimes it is finely pitted. The eggs average much lighter in color than those of the other two cranes; and they are marked more sparingly with smaller blotches and spots. The markings are sometimes quite evenly distributed, but are often massed at the larger end. The underlying markings are in shades of "drab-gray," "ecru drab" or "pale vinaceous drab." These are overlaid with spots of "Isabella color," "Saccardo's umber," "snuff brown," and "brownish drab."
The measurements of 43 eggs average 96.2 by 61.4 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 109.5 by 60.5, 98.2 by 66.3, 84 by 55 millimeters.
Young.--Nothing seems to be known about the period of incubation of any of the North American cranes; but we do know that both sexes incubate. Young cranes belong to the precocial class, but they probably remain in the nest for a day or so after they are hatched, perhaps for only a few hours however. Dr. Henry Bryant (1861) says:
The young remain with their parents until fully grown, and are fed for a long time by regurgitation. They do not fly until they are as large as their parents, but run with great speed, and hide like a young partridge.
Mr. Moore says in his notes:
No one here, and I have questioned many, has seen the young in the nest; many have, however, seen the young not much larger in body than a turkey a week old, walking about with their parents; which seem to remain with them till they are several months, probably a year, old, as two pairs are often seen in company from April and May till January. The young are often seen, and sometimes caught by a person giving chase, on foot, and overtaking them, after they are quite large, but still unable to fly. At such times the parents remain at a safe distance, deserting their captive offspring, but expressing their anxiety by uttering their peculiar notes loudly, and walking hither and thither over the ground. They never attack the persons at such times.
The following interesting incident is related by George H. Mackay (1893):
Mr. Horace Thomson of St. Paul, slightly wounded with a rifle ball at long range an immature sandhill crane (Grus mexicanus) which with several others was resting on the prairie. At the report they all flew away except the wounded bird and one other which apparently was its parent. The wounded bird, after a number of unsuccessful attempts to fly (assisting itself by first running, accompanied by the parent which kept beside it), finally succeeded in rising some 10 or 15 feet from the ground, but it evidently could not long sustain itself in the air. The parent bird, perceiving this, deliberately placed itself underneath the wounded one, allowing it to rest its feet on her back, both birds flapping away all the while. In this position she actually succeeded in bearing it off before our eyes for quite a distance to a place of safety, where we would not follow it. It was one of the most touching examples of paternal affection in a bird that has ever come under my observation.
Plumages.--The downy young of the sandhill crane, its sequence of plumages to maturity and its subsequent molts and plumages are all, apparently, exactly like those of the little brown crane, from which it is, probably, only subspecifically distinct.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Mr. Bent's Plumage description from his life history of the "little brown crane" (Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin 135, pp. 231-240), smaller than and considered a subspecies of the "greater" sandhill crane, follows:
My remarks on this subject are based on a study of a considerable series of little brown and sandhill cranes of various ages and refer to the plumage changes of the two birds combined, as the two are, apparently, exactly alike in this respect and are, probably, only subspecifically distinct. The small downy young crane is completely covered with thick, soft down and is very prettily colored. The color is deepest in the centers of the crown, hind neck and back and on the wings, where it is "chestnut" or "burnt sienna"; it shades off on the sides to "ochraceous tawny" and on the throat and belly to dull grayish white. These colors fade somewhat as age advances. I have seen no specimens showing the change into the juvenal plumage.
In the juvenal plumage the crown, which at first is fully feathered, is "tawny"; the head and neck are washed and mottled with "tawny" and "cinnamon" and the under parts are mottled with the same colors; the back is almost solid "hazel" or "tawny" and the scapulars and wing coverts are heavily washed with these same colors.
This brown plumage is worn through the first fall and winter, but the crown and lores become partially bare before spring. A partial prenuptial molt, involving the contour feathers, scapulars and some of the wing coverts, but not the flight feathers, produces a fresh, brown first nuptial plumage, in which I think that some birds breed.
At the next complete molt, the first postnuptial, from September to December, most of the adult gray plumage is assumed, but many of the feathers in the neck, back, scapulars and wing coverts are still brown. During the second winter, or at the second prenuptial molt, most of the brown plumage is replaced by new gray feathers, "mouse gray" to "pale mouse gray," on the head, neck and body; but some of the old brown wing coverts are still retained in the second nuptial plumage. At the next, complete postnuptial molt, which is not finished until December, the young crane becomes fully adult, at an age of 2 1/2 years.
Adults have a complete molt from August to December; the flight feathers are molted in August, but the molt of the body plumage and wing coverts is not finished until December. The prenuptial molt, if any, must be very limited; it probably involves only a renewal of some of the contour plumage.]
They feed in ponds, in water 4 inches deep; along their wide margins that are drier, where only a little grass is seen, on the highest grounds, among the lowest palmettos and grasses, and also over the lands that are blackened by the sweeping fires where no green thing is seen. In six stomachs opened by me at varying times of the year, I was unable to designate any portion of the contents, but in no one did I discover any sign of animal food. In some instances in two birds, which were killed while feeding together in about 3 inches of water, I detected a mass so nearly entire and having a peculiar bulb attached to a fiber now and then, that, on proceeding to the spot where they fell, I was enabled to discover and identify it; I found it to be the roots of a small species of Sagittaria. Another one contained 10 or more seeds of an unknown plant, as large as that of coffee. All contained much sand, small white quartz, and larger brown pebbles. I have now the sand and pebbles taken from one, which weighed after drying 2 ounces, together with the 10 seeds just mentioned.
Wright and Harper (1913) found these cranes in Okefinokee Swamp, in southern Georgia, where "they are said to breed in the prairies, but at other times seem to prefer the pine woods with their growth of saw palmetto and ericaceous plants. Here they find vast quantities of huckleberries, and are doubtless attracted also to pools where killi-fishes and tadpoles have entered at high water."
The varied bill of fare of the sandhill crane, as reported by various observers in different parts of the country, includes much animal food such as rats and mice, frogs, lizards and snakes, worms, grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, and other insects. Dr. Amos W. Butler (1897) says that in Indiana this crane is very fond of white potatoes and sweet potatoes. On the fall migration it lives largely on grains, notably corn, wheat, and barley, which it gleans from the stubble fields. Here it becomes very fat and is much esteemed as a game bird. Hamilton M. Laing (1915) gives us a very good account of its feeding methods and its scouting tactics, as follows:
Judging by the time he takes to a meal, one might be led to think that the quantity of grain he can store away at a sitting is prodigious. His regular hours on the field are from 7 to 11 a.m., and from 2 or 3 p.m. till dark. But he is a slow eater; he has not learned to chew and guzzle a whole wheat head at a time, as the geese do, but must pick it to pieces with his dagger bill. Yet before he leaves for the South he gets enough grain below his gray coat to round and plump his angularity, and 15-pound "turkeys"--as they are usually called by the plains folk--are not uncommon. The main moves in his system are simple. Night is spent usually in the shallows of marsh or grassy pond hole, morning and evening upon the grain fields, noon and early afternoon aloft or at a pond hole or on the prairie. His plan is the reverse of that of the geese. The goose is a water bird that comes to the uplands and fields to feed; the crane is a land bird that goes to the water merely to drink and secure a safe night roost. But, though simple, these movements have been modified in so many ways that the tyro hunter who attempts to solve the combination and outguess his quarry finds that he has tackled a knotty problem. First to the feeding ground at dawn go the scouts, the wise ones--it may be a ground used the previous evening, or it may be an entirely new one--the others follow when the coast has been declared safe. In feeding, the several units scatter widely; every unit has one or more scouts on high-headed guard; eyes are pointed at every angle, and approach by a foe is almost impossible.
Thousands of sandhill cranes repair each year to the Colorado River Valley, flock succeeding flock along the course of the great stream, from their arrival in September until their departure the following spring. Such ponderous bodies, moving with slowly-beating wings, give a great idea of momentum from mere weight--of force of motion without swiftness; for they plod along heavily, seeming to need every inch of their ample wings to sustain themselves. One would think they must soon alight fatigued with such exertion, but the raucous cries continue, and the birds fly on for miles along the tortuous stream, in Indian file, under some trusty leader, who croaks his hoarse orders, implicitly obeyed. Each bird keeps his place in the ranks; the advancing column now rises higher over some suspected spot, now falls along an open, sandy reach, swaying meanwhile to the right or left. As it passes on, the individual birds are blended in the hazy distance, till, just before lost to view, the line becomes like an immense serpent gliding mysteriously through the air.
Its powers of locomotion on foot or awing are well described by Mr. Laing (1915), as follows:
Mounted on his long, strong shanks, he covers the ground easily and thinks nothing of a little jaunt of a mile from water hole to feeding ground, or vice versa. He is as ready to walk away from lurking danger as he is to fly from it. His stride is like that of a man, and when he runs hard it is a fleet foot that overtakes him. Though his shanks are trim, his thighs are thick and powerful; they have the resiliency of steel, and the owner can spring and bounce 10 feet in air when he takes to dancing or reconnoitering. But if he is strong and able afoot, on the wing he is superb. Though apparently slow in flight, it is necessary only to time him over a mile or see him fan by at close range to realize that his huge wing-planes, though slow in action, really propel him forward at a goodly speed. Owing to his far-extended frame he has not the same aerial fighting powers as the more solidly built gray goose, and thus cannot combat a gale so sturdily. Nevertheless, it is in the wind that one sees him at his best--a display of aerial skill surpassed by but few birds indeed.
Like most feathered navigators of the air that hover or circle much, the crane matches one opposition against the other to his own profit. Gravity tends to drag his huge bulk down; the strong air current, striking the under side of his upward-slanting planes and body, tends to lift him kitelike. Thus matching one force against the other enables him to hang almost suspended in midair. His long rudder-legs trail far astern, his slender neck is far outthrust ahead (not crooked back after the manner of the heron or the stork); so he rocks back and forth, changing the angle of his planes to suit the air current and performs prodigies of flight. In swinging spirals, with scarce a wing motion to indicate the power of his flight muscles, he ascends or descends airily, easily. He is the original aeroplane; the man-made product, in spite of its motor, is an infringement. Almost equally wondrous are his sky-chasing flights on calm days. Daily in August and early September, when his clans are gathering, it is his custom, if the day is hot and clear, to rise about noon and circle dizzily at a vast height--so high that often his figure is lost to view, and even his trumpet croak faint to the ear. On the spiralled ascent he swings around and around, after the manner of the hawks, apparently getting power from some mysterious source; on the descent he arches his wings downward and sweeps back and forth in short circles.
As to its powers of vision, the same writer says:
His great stature gives him the range almost of that of a man; his eye is wondrously keen, telescopically so; it is so hear the top of his head that he can peer over the crest of a knoll and see without being seen, and its clear amber yellow suggests an owllike vision at night. Though he is big and tall, he is really not easily seen, for his coat is one of nature's triumphs of protective coloration. Blue-gray in tone, it is obscure always; it fades into the gray-green of the prairie even in the brightest sunlight; it melts into the dusk of twilight or is swallowed in the blue dome of the heavens at midday. A sentry on the alert at all times, his trumpet throat gives warning of danger to his kind far and near and all instantly pay heed.
The voice of the sandhill crane is most remarkable; its loud, ringing, and sometimes musical trumpetings have great carrying power and often can be heard long before the bird can be seen. For a good account of its vocal performance I must again quote from Mr. Laing (1915):
It is a hoarse, unnatural croak that rips from the throat, a vibrant puttering that seems to suggest something prehistoric--such a call as one might expect that our far-gone ancestors heard in the days when pterodactyls and their kind flew about the marshes. His vocabulary is limited to a code of signals, but it is all sufficient for his needs. A few of his more common calls might be syllablized as:
"Gar-oo-oo-oo-oo! Gar-oo-oo-oo-oo!"--the fair-weather, sky-scraping call uttered in the heavens.
"Hur-roo-oo-roo-roo!"--a broken, three-word call of inquiry when one flock on the wing seeks another far below.
"Kit-er-roo-oo-oo!"--"Danger! Look out for yourself!"
"A-rook-crook-crook! A-rook-crook-crook!"--"Come on; safe feeding here"--the invitation call uttered in stentorian tones on the field in the morning.
Then also there are short guttural croakings and putterings, conversational exchanges while the birds are feeding; and, in addition, the youngsters have a plaintive, absurd little whistle.
The young cranes are apparently strong on the wing in August, for at this time small bands of the species may be seen sailing high over the prairie, apparently strengthening their wings before they are compelled to journey southward for the season. As September draws nigh their numbers are increased, and the long array of the grand birds present a most imposing spectacle as in serpentine lines they float away after the sun.
W. Leon Dawson (1909) writes:
Prior to leaving the breeding grounds for the winter season, the cranes are said to assemble for a stately promenade, which is the "swell" function of the year. When the clan is fully assembled, and after much preliminary sociability, the great company takes to wing and rises in majestic circles. These spirals are continued until a considerable height is attained with a great ado of sonorous croaking, a solemn leave taking of the happy scenes of youth, after which the birds move southward.
Doctor Coues (1874) says:
Late in September and early in October numbers of this species and G. americana together were migrating through the same region; they appeared to journey chiefly by night. Often, as we lay encamped on the Mouse River, the stillness of midnight would be broken by the hoarse, rattling croaks of cranes coming overhead, the noise finally dying in the distance, to be succeeded by the shrill pipe of numberless waders, the honking of geese, and the whistle of the pinions of myriads of wild fowl that shot past, sounding to sleepy ears like the rushing sound of a far away locomotive.
The sandhill cranes that breed in Florida are permanently resident there and to what extent their numbers are increased in winter by migrants from the North is an open question. Now that this species has been so thoroughly extirpated in the eastern prairie regions, the birds which breed in the Northwest may all migrate to Louisiana, Texas, and Mexico, rather than to Florida. Mr. Moore says in his notes:
I do not believe the migrators ever extend their southern sojourn so far south as this bay (Sarasota), as no increase in numbers occurs during that time among those seen here, and no movement is observed among them to excite such a presumption. These birds are never seen to soar high in the air in flocks, at any time of the year, as the migrators may be seen frequently to do in their southern winter home in Louisiana, Texas, and other States; one or a pair only have I ever seen moving thus, not intent on travel, but simply circling for "an airing," as it were.
Game.--The sandhill crane combines many of the qualities of a fine game bird. There is pleasure to be derived in the pursuit of what is difficult to obtain, and certainly the cranes give plenty of opportunities to practice patience, skill, and ingenuity in outwitting them. In the open places where they live they can exercise to the best advantage their keen eyesight and acute sense of hearing. They are constantly on the alert to detect the slightest movement or sound and are suspicious of everything new or strange. In proportion to their size their flight is slow and steady; so they are not difficult to hit; but it is a real problem to get them to come near enough to shoot. For a good account of the difficulties to be encountered I would refer the reader to Mr. Laing's (1915) interesting paper, referred to above, relating his adventures while hunting cranes with a camera, in which he was finally successful.
The best places for hunting cranes are the big grain fields of
the prairie regions, after the crops have been harvested in the
fall, to which the cranes resort at certain hours during the day,
early morning, and late afternoon, to feed on the fallen grain,
wheat, barley, or corn among the stubble. Sometimes a pit is dug
in the ground, such as is used for goose shooting, but this must
be artfully concealed to escape detection. Better success can be
had by utilizing, as a blind, one of the numerous corn shocks
standing in some corn field which the cranes are frequenting. The
hunter must be well concealed in his blind long before daylight
and wait quietly and patiently for his best chance, for he is not
likely to have more than one. The crafty, old scouts are sure to
inspect the field critically before reporting that it is safe for
the main flight to come in. Their system of sentinels and patrols
is most complete and very efficient. If the hunter succeeds in
outwitting them all and brings to bag one or two of the big birds,
fattened on ripe grain, he will be rewarded with a feast worthy of
Sandhill Crane* Grus canadensis
*Original Source: Bent, Arthur Cleveland. 1927. Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin 135 : 241-253. United States Government Printing Office