Gordon McDonald (Consolidated Cooperative)
Q. Hi, Chip: Early last month, my wife, Jo, noticed a very large, gray, heron-like bird wandering around our yard and looking at its reflection in our car parked in the driveway. After supper, we went outside to see if we could spot it again, and found it standing in an adjacent crop field. The bird allowed us to get quite close, within a few feet, and when we threw some shelled corn on the ground it ate it.
When we walked back to our house, the bird followed us. It then walked over to our neighbor’s house where it ate some birdseed they had put out and drank some water from a bucket. A short time later it flew off and we never saw it again. By the description in our bird ID guide, we believe it was a sandhill crane. Can you confirm that from the photo we sent, and can you explain the bird’s odd behavior?
A. Gordon and Jo: Yes, from your photo the bird appears to be an adult sandhill crane, but I’m puzzled about its behavior for several reasons. First, the sandhill population in Ohio is considered low, so the chances of one dropping out of the sky into your yard is a real treat—lucky you! Usually during spring, adults are with their mate raising young, called colts. Or if unmated for some reason, those “single” birds are with a flock of other sandhill cranes, not by themselves. Also, sandhill cranes are normally wary birds, not permitting humans too close.
To get another opinion on the incident, I shared your question with Jim McCormac, one of Ohio’s leading birding experts and author of the bird ID guide Birds of Ohio. Here’s what he had to say:
“While I couldn’t guess at the backstory, it’s almost certainly a bird that has become habituated to humans. As the population grows, cranes seem to be becoming more used to people in some regions, especially the more southerly populations. The Florida subspecies has long been ‘tame’ and many of those birds are extremely approachable. Maybe one of those decided to take a northern vacation.”
The number of sandhill cranes in Ohio is slowly increasing. Once extirpated from the Buckeye State, a survey in April of this year — conducted by the Ohio Division of Wildlife, International Crane Foundation, and Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative — found 371 cranes in 24 preselected counties. However, sandhill cranes are currently still considered a threatened species in Ohio.