In 2011 the good folks in Nebraska had some unusual holiday visitors: sandhill cranes. For as long as anyone could remember, they’d never had cranes in winter. Nebraskans called them Christmas cranes.
Now, in 2012, they’re back once again.
Sandhill cranes mate for life, the male and female working together to nest and raise their young—called colts. Once they are ready, the parents teach the colts how to forage for food in the tall grasses. The colts stay with their parents until the next breeding season. I did this illustration as part of my Red Rock Lakes project for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Nebraska is world-famous for cranes. Every March, a half-million of these graceful beauties gather along a stretch of the Platte River, where they rest, socialize, and fatten up before heading off to their breeding grounds in the far north. This marvelous spectacle is described as life-changing…something that everyone should see at least once.
In fall, the cranes typically visit Nebraska once again on their way south to their wintering grounds in the Gulf States. But starting in 2011, a few thousand cranes stayed in Nebraska all winter.
Sandhill cranes are famous for their courtship dances. Performed mostly by juveniles who have not yet chosen a mate, both the male and female participate in the elaborate choreography. They strut in sync, flap, leap, and bow, while croaking whoops and crrr-uk-crrr-uks.
Is this climate change?
Why would Sandhill cranes choose a winter in Nebraska over the warm southern states? The most obvious culprit would seem to be climate change, but it’s too soon to say for certain. In order to distinguish a migration anomaly from a trend, scientists would need years of study.
But, global climate change is real —that has been proven to beyond a shadow of a doubt. And, it’s a fact southern states are in the second year of extreme drought. The wetlands that cranes—and many other species—depend on have largely dried up. When their habitat is gone, animals are forced to go elsewhere to look for food, water and shelter. It’s the kind of disruption that we’ve been warned about, and it’s not good news for wildlife. Some species may be able to adapt…but many will not.
I wonder about cranes. I don’t want to wait years and years for more study—or for the economy or business interests or any other excuse.
I want to do something now. How about you?
This is an illustration I did for my Nevada Wildlife project. In arid regions, rare wetlands are prime habitat for birds. This wetland at Key Pittman Wildlife Area gets its share of species, including migrating Sandhills.
To learn more:
visit the Crane Trust: http://www.cranetrust.org/newsletter/july-august-2012/winter-cranes-on-the-platte%E2%80%94trend-or-anomaly/
visit Audubon: http://birds.audubon.org/species/sancra or: http://rowe.audubon.org/crane-facts
read more about the Christmas cranes: http://www.kearneyhub.com/news/local/article_75746704-59eb-11e1-9b33-0019bb2963f4.html
To learn more about birds and climate change: http://seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2019961329_apusbirdsclimatechange.html
If you still need convincing about climate change or know someone who does: http://the-sieve.com/2012/10/27/how-to-win-an-argument-with-a-climate-skeptic/#comments
To learn about the drought in the south: http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/22/in-texas-questions-of-drought-and-climate-change/
Tell me your thoughts! Have you seen sandhill cranes in Nebraska or elsewhere? Are you ready for action on climate change? Can you imagine a world without wildlife? What would you be willing to do to help wildlife?