A Leader Among Sandhill Cranes

I created this GIF from the Crane Trust’s documentary, Nebraska’s Great Sandhill Crane Migration.

There is no more thrilling sound in nature.

[Recorded by Jim Stevenson, retired Florida Park Service chief naturalist.]

One of my most memorable experiences was a spring day in Gainesville, Florida, when I noticed a crowd of people outside the building I was in; they were all gazing upward.  I hurried out to see a seething mass of sandhill cranes circling overhead, their rippling cries filling the air.  They had risen up from nearby Paynes Prairie, and were massing for their annual return to their breeding grounds on midwestern and Canadian rivers and wet prairies.

Apparently they were awaiting the emergence of the right leader.  Eventually one crane left the group heading north.  A few birds straggled after in a ragged V that aimlessly dissolved back into the group.  Soon another crane made a failed bid.  After four or five false starts, a  leader emerged that drew the wheeling flock into a solid line aiming northward, the leader who would start them on the long journey with that ancient knowledge that must be taught to each succeeding generation.

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