Three Days Older, Three Days Cuter – Sandhill Crane Colts

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When I returned to the Sandhill Crane nest three days after the photos from my last posts, I was surprised to find the colts noticeably bigger.  I guess a steady diet of insects and worms does a lot for a small bird!  The baby birds weren’t covered in seed pods this morning, either — unfortunately, because it was so cute!  I think someone had mowed the grass, or maybe the baby birds were just enough taller that their feathers didn’t come in contact with as many seed pads.  They were much more active on their sixth day of life, running around after Mom and Dad and in constant pursuit of food.  I had a great time lying in the wet grass photographing them.

Mom Sandhill Crane with her Two Colts
Mom Sandhill Crane with her Two Colts

The little Sandhill Crane colts are so animated.  They are adorable and adventurous, which makes them such fun to watch.   They often peck at each other and seem to check to make sure their sibling doesn’t have food (well, if Mom hasn’t fed me lately, then maybe she’s fed you?  Let me see!)  I tried to capture the cuteness of these interactions.  It’s hard to capture their little dances with still photos.

Playtime!  The Sandhill Crane colts peck at each other under the shade of a tree
Playtime! The Sandhill Crane colts peck at each other under the shade of a tree

It was very nice to see my friend Mike on this particular morning, and to meet Lance and Robert.  The four of us followed the birds as they meandered over the fields, feeding.  The adults are so gentle and patient with their little ones.  Those large gray birds with the huge beaks pick up the tiniest, tastiest morsels and hand them patiently off to the kids.  Sometimes the colts don’t quite grab them the food on the first try, and the adults repeatedly pick up the bugs and hand them back until the food disappears into the colts’ tummies.

Oh Boy!  Time for Breakfast!
Oh Boy! Time for Breakfast!

The colts are so cute when they perk up when Mom or Dad offers them food.  They throw those little wing stubs out and flap over to the parent to eat.  I caught the start of the dance in the shot above.  Often I’d be focused in on the colts with my Beast when the dance started.  I was a little frustrated that each of those individual images didn’t capture the excited emotion that I was going for.  So then I realized I could stitch several of the stills together to depict the run to Mom.  I tried it and I think I like the result.  Flap those wing stubs, little guy!  Mom has a treat for you. :)

Run for Food.  Photoshop composite of the dash for an insect.  Mmmm!
Run for Food. Photoshop composite of the dash for an insect. Mmmm!

Preening, or cleaning the feathers, is a big part of a bird’s life.  They have to keep their feathers in good shape in order to be able to fly.  Even at six days old, the little Sandhill Crane colts know how to preen.  In pauses between feedings, they would adjust their feathers.  I got lucky and caught this little guy’s head under his wing as he preened. This is one of my best preening shots, and I couldn’t have found a cuter subject!

Under my Wing (Stub)
Under my Wing (Stub)

I couldn’t resist trying to capture every little skirmish between the siblings.  They interacted so much on this morning, much more than on the previous days.  I took lots of shots, knowing that an awful lot of my Sandhill Crane photos have the bird’s eye half-shut.  The birds have a third eyelid, called a nictitating membrane, that covers the bird’s eye.  All birds have it, but the Sandhill Cranes seem to have an unusually high propensity to have it closed just when I hit the shutter button!  So I take lots of shots.  It’s probably good that the birds have extra eye protection, given the way that the colts poke each other in the face.

Sibling-Scuffle_Red-Bug-Lake-Park_201403141_copyrightJessYarnellThe only problem with photographing Sandhill Cranes is that it’s addicting.  I could have easily stayed the whole day, following the little colts.  The sun got higher in the sky and the shadows got harsh, but when babies are showing off, what’s a photographer to do? :)

We're Cute!
We’re Cute!

Finally I had to tear myself away.  As I got up, one of the colts did a wing-flap-run towards me, as if to say “Goodbye!  See you next time!” :)

Goodbye!  See you next time!
Goodbye! See you next time!

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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