Sandhill Crane Colts: Day 3

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It didn’t take me long to go back to the nest with newly hatched Sandhill Crane colts.  I love spending time observing these gentle birds.  A lot of people in Florida get annoyed by them because they wander across the road and stop traffic.  As far as I’m concerned, the birds were here first!  Sandhill Cranes are wonderfully loyal birds.  They are almost human-like in the way that they care for their families.  It was so sweet watching Dad bring Mom something to eat while she lay with the Juniors under her wing.  The babies are never far from their parents, and the whole family stays together for a year, long after the juveniles are capable of taking care of themselves.  So I was very excited to return to this nest, and happy to find myself the only person around as I photographed the birds on their morning walk.

Hello, Good Morning!  A Baby Sandhill Crane peeks out from under Mama's wing
Hello, Good Morning! A Baby Sandhill Crane peeks out from under Mama’s wing

Last year I had the wonderful opportunity to photograph Sandhill Cranes at their nest for the first time.  So I learned that the family sleeps at the nest, but they don’t stay at the nest for long.  By the babies’ second or third day of life, the little orange fuzzballs can be seen trotting behind Mom and Dad through all sorts of tall, swampy grass.  I also learned about the wonderful thing for nature photographers call “insta-nest”. :)  You see, the typical reedy-edge-of-pond habitat where cranes build their nests is often dominated by a cluttered background.  But while the babies are tiny, they need to nap pretty often, so Mom will lie down and make an “insta-nest” in what is often a much more pleasing location!  Then you have to be patient and wait for the babies to nap.  But it’s so cute when they poke their little heads out from under Mom’s feathers and come out again!

Peek-a-boo.  A three-day-old Sandhill Crane crawls under his mother's wing
Peek-a-boo. A three-day-old Sandhill Crane crawls under his mother’s wing

Eating is a big thing for the young Sandhill Crane colts.  Mom and Dad find all sorts of good bugs, worms, and even small fish to eat.  It’s such fun to photograph the exchanges of food.  It’s amazing how carefully the large adults pick up these tiny worms and hand them off to their offspring.  One colt is typically a little bigger than the other (they hatch asynchronously, and when you are only three days old, even one day older is a lot!)  So the bigger colt tends to get a little more food than the smaller colt.  It looks like favoritism, and sometimes the bigger colt really does steal food from his younger sibling.  But I guess the younger guy doesn’t need quite as much food, and Mom and Dad are pretty good at making sure that everybody gets enough.  Sometimes you just have to wait until the oldest colt is asleep!

Double Anticipation - Two tiny colts await a tasty morsel from Mom
Double Anticipation – Two tiny colts await a tasty morsel from Mom

I must have looked ridiculous photographing these colts.  I had my Beast lens with me as well as an intermediate telephoto.  Mostly I used the Beast so that I didn’t have to be as close to the birds.  I do try to be respectful of nature and its creatures.  In order to get these wonderful eye-to-eye shots, I sprawled out on my stomach in the grass wet with dew.  Or I laid back and balanced the Beast on my stomach.  Both techniques work! :)

Sssh--it's-a-Secret!  Young Sandhill Crane siblings contemplate the silly-looking photographer nearby
Sssh–it’s-a-Secret! Young Sandhill Crane siblings contemplate the silly-looking photographer nearby

The little Sandhill Crane colts were so small that they got bits of seed pods stuck to them as they meandered through the grass.  They were so cute!  When they are this tiny, they don’t really have wings.  They have little stubby things that will grow into wings over the next month or two.  One of my favorite shots from the morning was the tiny colt, all covered in weed seeds, doing a wing-flap of his little stubs.  It’s as if he is saying, “Mom, these don’t work!”

Stretch those Wings!  or, "Mommy, when will I learn to fly?"
Stretch those Wings! or, “Mommy, when will I learn to fly?”

Like all siblings, these young colts have a bit of sibling rivalry going on between them.  Every once in a while they would start chasing each other and doing these cute little beak-to-beak exchanges.  I’m not sure if it was entirely playful.  Sometimes it looked as if the older colt was trying to poke his little brother’s eye out!  But it was always fun to photograph them while they were chasing each other.

Sibling Scuffle.  Playtime or fight?
Sibling Scuffle. Playtime or fight?

I have so many good shots from this morning.  It’s hard to pick just a couple for the blog.  I think I will have to follow up with a few vignette-style posts about their first swim, their first woodpecker, and so many other wonderful moments that I got to observe.   But here’s a last one for today.  The parents took the babies under a tree as the sun got high in the sky.  The seed-covered colts posed in front of the tree, looking up to say, “Will I ever get that big?”

Getting Taller by the Minute!
Getting Taller by the Minute!

Well, they were noticeably bigger the next time I saw them, but not as tall as the tree! :)

Want to learn more about nature photography at Sandhill Crane Nest?

Check out my Sandhill Crane Nest page with more information about the location, map, website, photography tips, etc. It is archived by date so you can see my images from previous visits. Maybe you'll be inspired for your own trip!

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