It’s been a few years since I’ve had the privilege of photographing newborn Sandhill Crane babies, called colts. The babies are adorable, and the adult cranes make really good parents. So when I saw a Sandhill Crane on her nest at Orlando Wetlands, I knew I had to check back regularly. On one happy morning, I found them!
The colts were four days old. The babies are precocial and are up and about within a few hours of hatching. They walk, swim, and gobble down all the bugs that their parents offer. The parents take them for long walks away from the nest area.
This family has attracted a lot of attention at the park, partly because they are so accessible. The babies are very trusting and unafraid of humans. I photographed these special birds before they became celebrities on social media, and before the park had to put up signs telling visitors to stay 25 feet away. With my 600mm lens and 1.4x teleconverter, I had no need to get very close. I find the best pictures are taken from a bit of a distance anyway. Please, if you come across nesting birds this spring, give them their space.
Back to the cuteness. Who can resist such a face?
The Sandhill Cranes are very good parents. These tall birds are so gentle with their babies, and so quick to defend them from other birds invading their space. They traveled as a group that morning, often with each parent looking after a colt. So it was fun when I got four heads in the frame for a family portrait.
Feeding is a very important part of a young Sandhill Crane’s life. Mom and Dad patiently sift through the grass and dirt, pulling the tiniest bugs out with their beaks, then handing them over to the colts. Often it takes the colt several times to get the bug down. The parents just stand there, picking up the bugs again and again, until the baby executes the final gulp.
I always enjoy photographing the “twins” in dew-covered grass surrounded by springtime flowers. I imagine the world seems like an absolute jungle to these tiny birds. When Mom and Dad flap their wings, the colts look up with curiosity. I wonder if they know how quickly they will grow up and learn to fly.
Sibling rivalry starts early. The colts usually hatch around a day apart. The bigger colt can be quite aggressive with the smaller, weaker sibling. The bigger colt often pecks at the smaller colt’s face, body-slams him, and chases him relentlessly. It’s fun action photography and looks cute in the pictures, but in reality, it’s a reminder of survival of the fittest.
Then Mom calls them with a bug and they forget their squabbles. Mom and Dad are very good at making sure both babies get their fair share of bugs. But the adults tend to ignore the “squabbles” of the siblings.
The babies grow tired quickly at this age. Mom and Dad took them off into a patch of grass to let them rest. The light was gorgeous on the tiny colt. See, this is the kind of picture you can’t get with a cell phone shoved up in the baby’s face. The key to images like this is to get down low at the crane’s eye level, patiently wait for a good sun angle, and let the long lens blur the background.
My time with these special birds was over far too quickly. As I hopped back up on my bike, the smallest colt zonked out in the grass. A small patch of greenery served as his pillow. When you are four days old, have walked about a quarter of a mile from your nest, and have your belly full of bugs, it’s time for a good long nap!
Want to learn more about nature photography at Orlando Wetlands Park?
Check out my Orlando Wetlands Park 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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I look forward to seeing these Sandhill babies. Adorable!