Bird Watcher's General Store

Cranes Vs. Herons - 08/29/03


Dear Bird Folks:

A month ago I saw two very large birds fly out of the upper branches of a tree. As they flew they gave off a call that sounded like a rusty car door opening. Most notable was the shape of their necks, it looked like the trap under my kitchen sink. Could these have been cranes? Do cranes live in these parts?

-Joe, Wayland, MA

Hey Joe,

You wouldn't happen to be a plumber would you? I get a lot of odd bird descriptions, but this is the first one that has incorporated parts of the kitchen sink. Before I could answer this question, I first had to climb under my kitchen sink so I could understand what you were talking about. And let me tell you Joe, I'm never doing that again. Talk about gross. Now I know what the mice have been complaining about.

As odd as the explanation of your birds was, it was very accurate. You did a great job of describing your bird. Unfortunately, you didn't describe a crane. Although we do occasionally see cranes around here, seeing two would be almost unheard of. Equally unheard of is having cranes flying out from the tops of trees. Cranes have no use for trees. When not flying, they have their feet firmly planted on the ground. You would have a better chance of seeing a poodle fly out of a tree than a crane. Also, the voice of a crane is not at all like a rusty car door, it sounds more like a rusty bugle. And lastly, cranes do not fly with their necks looking like any part of a kitchen sink. They fly with their necks looking like a 2" piece of copper tubing. I'm not sure what that means, I was just trying to talk like a plumber. Anyhow, cranes fly with their necks straight out, like hmm, a crane.

The bird that you have described is our old pal the Great Blue Heron. Herons can be found just about anywhere there is water, including Wayland. Herons love trees. They even nest in trees. Their voice is a very harsh squawk, doing justice to your rusty car door comparison. And because the heron's neck, bill and head are disproportionately heavier than their bodies, they must rest them on their shoulders during flight. In order to fly, herons collapse their necks, giving it that "S" shape, or as you plumbers say,, the "kitchen sink trap" look. The odd part about this whole thing is that many people call the sink trap a "goose neck", when in fact geese, like cranes, fly with their neck straight. "Heron neck" would be a more accurate name. Somebody needs to look into getting that changed.

Here in North America we have two types of native cranes. The very rare Whooping Crane and the very common Sandhill Crane. Both are found in the western states, with smaller populations occurring in the deep south. The majestic Whooping Crane is the largest wading bird in North America. It was all but wiped off the face of the earth by the 1940's. The population had dropped to only fifteen birds when a massive effort was made to save them. Now, sixty years later, with the wild population of only about 200 birds, this wonderful bird still remains on the brink. The Sandhill Crane, on the other hand, is doing quite well. Waves of them can be seen along their migration routes through the middle of North America. In some areas sandhills are so common thousands of them are legally shot for the entertainment of grown adults. Go figure.

Sorry to spoil your crane sighting Joe, but don't give up looking. Just about every year someone spots a crane somewhere in New England. Keep looking at every field you see and who knows, you might find yourself a crane someday. Just don't look for cranes on the tops of trees, they won't ever be there. And no matter what you do, don't look for anything under my kitchen sink, you'll be scarred for life.

Artwork by Catherine Clark



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