Yesterday I saw the sandhill cranes dancing. It was right in my backyard and a family of cranes came poking along. Their focus was on extracting grubs from the ground, so they poked and poked with those long beaks into the St. Augustine grass. Then one of them noticed me in the screen room. He, or she approached the screen, looking fixedly at me. Probably someone has been feeding them grain, which you aren’t supposed to do. Anyway I feared it would poke at the screen, so I moved away abruptly.
At that point, the crane turned and flapped his wings. Another crane in the group responded with a wing flap and a hop. They both hopped and flapped for several minutes and then the young cranes joined in. These were the cute twin cranes from the spring, but now almost indestinguishable from the adult cranes. The four of them postured, hopped, flapped their wings and ducked their heads at each other with open beaks. Quite a display.
I wish I’d had a movie camera at hand. Since they kept up their dancing for awhile, I hastened in for my camera which was just inside. When I came back out, they had settled down and returned to grass poking. As I stepped outside the screen room to take a better picture of the group, they noticed me again. Two of them gave a token hop and wing flap which I captured on camera. That was the end of the show.
I’m not sure if the activity was from being startled by my original abrupt movement or what. Previously I’d thought the dance was supposed to be a crane courtship activity. Since this was a family group of four cranes, that didn’t fit unless the young cranes were just practicing in response to their parents’ behavior. Anyway I felt quite priviledged to have seen it.