An ancient voice


sandhill crane

The sound of sandhill cranes calling from skyward as they return to their summer nesting grounds is one of my favorite signs of spring. I usually hear sandhills well before I glimpse them high in flight, and sometimes I never see them at all. Once perilously close to extinction in the lower 48, the sandhill crane has made an impressive comeback and is now relatively common. Cranes use wetlands for nesting and agricultural land for foraging (Baraboo’s International Crane Foundation is a good place to learn more).

And there’s something about their call that stirs the imagination: haunting and ancient at the same time, it’s a southern Wisconsin version of the Northwoods call of the loon. Both species have been around for a very long time, with the sandhill representing one of the oldest surviving bird species, unchanged for at least several million years. It’s as if that ancient lineage can still be heard in their voice.

Aldo Leopold wrote powerfully of cranes in A Sand County Almanac essay called Marshland Elegy:

“When we hear his call we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution. He is the symbol of our untamable past, of that incredible sweep of millennia…”

2 Responses to “An ancient voice”

  1. Joanne Brown Says:

    A week ago last Friday (March 19, 2008) I counted 18 sandhill cranes at the Metropolitan Sewerage District Wildlife Observation Area. Wonderful sight and sound when they all start calling together.

  2. Mitch Says:

    “it’s a southern Wisconsin version of the Northwoods call of the loon.”

    You probably know this already, but in Southern Wisconsin this time of year we also have loons visiting our lakes. Since they’re migrating instead of nesting, you can see a lot of them in one place — many more than you would see up north, and they are less wary of humans now than they will be when they have loonlets to protect.

    If you take the bike path through Law Park, there’s a good chance you’ll see a lot of loons right now.

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