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The Newest Adirondack Bird?

Sandhill crane. Photo by John J. Mosesso, United States National Biological Infrastructure

Jen Perry’s 10-year-old son, Taylor, was in his bedroom, looking out the window, when he hollered, “Mom, there’s an ostrich out there!” Jen ignored the comment. “He was in time-out,” she explains. “I thought he was trying to get out of it.”

That was last Wednesday. On Thursday her daughter, Jordanna, age eight, said something about two large birds flying over and making odd noises. In the midst of a busy week, Jen let the comment slide. They live at the edge of Tucker Farms, in Gabriels, and there are Canada geese and turkeys in the fields. Jen thought Jordanna must’ve heard snow geese.

Then on Friday Taylor—again in time-out—again called down the stairs about ostriches. This time, Jen looked out the window. Probing the ground amid the stubs of last year’s corn were two tall gray birds. At first glance they looked a little like great blue herons except they were not herons. Jordanna got the binoculars and noticed a red patch on their foreheads. Jen, who had once worked to restore crane habitat in the Midwest, recognized the visitors as sandhill cranes.

Yesterday afternoon Taylor and Jordanna climbed to the roof of their garage for a better look across the field. The cranes were still there, an exotic sight amid the turkeys and geese—but, it turns out, not an entirely unexpected sight.

The range of sandhill cranes has been expanding eastward. If this pair decides to stay in Gabriels they will be the first of their species known to breed in the Adirondacks. The omnivores forage grains, insects and other small creatures in farm fields, but they nest in open marshes or bogs.

Sandhills were confirmed as a resident breeder in New York State 10 years ago, at the Northern Montezuma Wildlife Management Area west of Syracuse. They have since been sighted during migration over the Champlain Valley and Vermont, and some young ones hung around Rouses Point a few years ago. A fisherman reported on NNY Birds listserv that he saw a pair flying north over Peru yesterday.

“Unlike nearly all other species of cranes in the world, most sandhill crane populations are now stable or increasing,” according to the Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State.

Brian McAllister, ornithology lab teacher at Paul Smith’s College, wonders if a recent snowstorm pushed the Gabriels cranes off course. He and other birders are watching to see if they settle in. Every so often the birds stop feeding and break into a courtship dance.

April 19 update: The landowner has asked Adirondack Life to remind anyone who looks for the cranes to respect private property and to keep to public roads. Tucker Farms grows certified seed potatoes, and trespass can introduce disease or damage crops, threatening certification.

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