Story By Eileen Majors
Photo By Jan Ramelli
We turned the corner heading onto a paved road just outside Westwood when a majestic scene caught our eye in the meadow beyond us. We ended up stopping in the middle of the road to catch the view, which caused us to eventually pull off to the side of the road. Out in the distance, a pair of Sandhill Cranes performed an ancient ritual, a mating dance that was truly spectacular to see. The dance included bows followed by leaps up to about eight feet high. We watched a fascinating series of bows, hops, skips and leaps, by both birds, each standing 3 to 4 feet tall with a wingspan of 6 or 7 feet.; we would later come to find out the dance is part of the courtship ritual. Usually performed in the Spring, the dance can occur at other times of the year. While one or several Cranes may take part in the dance, we watched just one pair. We learned that these courtship dances will establish and maintain strong bonds between the pair. Sandhill Cranes usually mate for life, which can be up to 20 years.
Over 25 million years old, Sandhill Cranes are the oldest living bird species. Many locals have reported seeing flocks of these birds around the Mountain Meadows area near Westwood. You may hear their calls from afar. The bugling, gargling sound can be heard for up to a mile away. They fly with their necks and legs fully extended. Their coloring is grey overall with a red bare patch on their foreheads. They almost always are seen in a group.
Bird facts courtesy Mountain Meadows Conservancy, organization found at http://mtmeadows.org