Saturday night I was able to be in a blind at the National Audubon Rowe Sanctuary outside of Kearney, Nebraska as over 20,000 cranes flew in to spend the night roosting in the shallow river. The incredible sound of adult Sandhill Cranes (listen here) was occasionally joined by the high shrill calls of young cranes who's voices hadn't changed yet. As night fell, the cranes bustled in the gathering darkness, giving us glimpses of crane sociality.
While the American imagination was being hijacked by the tragic Terry Schiavo story, it was great to be elsewhere, letting the sounds and sights of crane society shape my thoughts and feelings. What is it like to be a crane, spending days in fields with your family and other cranes, sleeping at night in a larger flock in the middle of a river? How do cranes recognize each other? What would it take to be able to read crane behavior?
Cranes communicate with a wide range of calls and intricate body movements that convey emotional states and other information. The red patch of feathers on their head can be manipulated to send a wide range of signals. They communicate. They live in family units. They teach their young. They are a nation of cranes, seasonal nomads ranging from Mexico northward to Alaska and across the Bering Strait to Russia. They meet here along the Platte River once each year in a celebration, a feasting on waste corn. The feast, the festival, of the cranes.
Turn off the TV melodrama and find a festival near you. Maybe its a crow roost. Maybe the territorial battles of cardinals. Maybe the courting habita of ducks. Somewhere, not far away, is a hidden world of immense meaning and value. If only you know where to find it.