sticks for legs, Rocky Mountain Sandhill Cranes stop in on their way south for winter, December 14, 2008, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.
The cranes are back. I don’t have my glasses on so at first I think they’re dogs. Big hump-backed dogs sitting in the middle of the field. Then I see their legs. Long spindly legs that don’t look like they could possibly support such big bodies.
This time there are six cranes. They seem to come in even numbers. Jim says they mate for life. Apparently they do, although if one of the pair dies, the survivor will find another mate. That’s only fair.
For the past 16 years, Sandhill Cranes and other migratory birds have been a part of our lives. Our town is on their migration path, next to the Rio Grande bosque just north of Albuquerque. We see cranes in fields that grew corn in the summer, and we sneak up on large groups of the birds during our fall walks along the river.
We’ve come to cherish their throaty prehistoric calls as they fly overhead on the way north or south, depending on the season. (And prehistoric they are; a ten-million-year-old crane fossil found in Nebraska had a bone structure identical to the modern Sandhill Crane.)
About two-and-a-half hours south of here is the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, which is a fall and winter migration spot for one of the largest concentrations of Sandhill Cranes in the world. We went there when Dee was young enough to ride in a trailer hitched to the back of Jim’s bike. We bicycled all around the refuge, but we were in the off season and didn’t spot many cranes.
It’s almost the end of crane’s migration through this particular part of the Rio Grande Valley, at least for this year. Monday we had snow, and this week rain and threats of more snow. Soon it will be too cold for these skinny-legged birds and they’ll move on to southern New Mexico and Texas and northern Mexico.
I like to think the group of cranes from today includes the same four that were here this past weekend. That not only do they mate for life, but that they come back to the same places—even our field—again and again.
I suppose they do.
autumn: sticks for legs
then the first snowfall arrives
winter: sticks for arms
Resources on Sandhill Cranes
- To hear the haunting call of the Sandhill Cranes and hear more about their magical southern New Mexico gathering and mating spot, listen to this 2005 NPR report on Bosque del Apache
- To hear the Sandhill Cranes and see a beautiful slide show, check out this report from the Denver Rocky Mountain News
- US Geological Survey on Cranes
- City of Albuquerque’s website on Sandhill Cranes (including interesting facts)
- National Geographic crane center (including cranecam and migration map)