The email subject line caught my attention: FW: Sandhill Crane. Immediately intrigued, I checked out the photos that a kindly observer had passed along to me. While driving by a neighborhood near Newark, Susan Eggert had the amazing experience of spotting a crane waltzing across the lawns. Realizing that she’d spotted a very unusual bird for around here, she passed along the sighting and photos to me at the nature center.
I drove down to Newark this evening with high hopes, and found the crane right in the spot Susan described. A classic neighborhood pond, surrounded by tall weeds and willow thickets, loaded with the ubiquitous Mallards. A group of young kids were playing around the pond and came running up to me.
“Are you looking for the crane? The Sandhill Crane?” a six year-old girl asked me. The kids excitedly told me that the crane had been visiting their pond for the past three days. They’d had fun watching the bird as it hunted for food. They knew that cranes are very rare in Delaware, because they’d studied up on cranes after discovering their new feathered neighbor.
They told me that the crane had just disappeared and that it was hiding in the tall grass. Sure enough, seven year-old Tyler soon jabbed his finger in the direction of the broom sedge thicket. Parting the stems like a gray shadow, a four-foot tall crane emerged from the cover.
I stood at the pond’s edge at dusk, surrounded by ten wide-eyed and eager kids. I passed the binoculars around, and shared my photos with the young naturalists-in-the-making. Ten-year old Voni hopes to be an ornithologist someday and is fascinated by this incredible bird in her backyard. Can you imagine having an elegant crane waltzing around your yard?
We watched the crane catch and consume a Pickerel Frog and a couple of small fish. The sinuous neck of the crane uncoiled as it took a long drink, submerging its head completely underwater. The crane’s bright orange eyes glowed fiercely between its red cap and pale gray face.
A wild crane– wary and hunting for food amidst a pack of curious kids. The crane cautiously kept its distance from its onlookers. We spoke of the importance of respecting wildlife and how this crane is attracted to the food resources in their healthy pond. If they respect the pond, they will be rewarded with a rich bounty of wildlife to watch.
As dusk settled, I explained to the kids that cranes like to roost in shallow water and that it would probably spend the night in their pond. Perhaps in the morning they will see the crane catching its breakfast while they eat their cereal and gaze at the incredible wild creature in their midst.
If you’d like to try for a suburban Sandhill Crane experience, I encourage you to go have a look. This is a unique opportunity to interact with people and demonstrate how a simple pond can be an important part of the survival of a rare visiting bird.
With the permission of the neighbors, I created a custom map to the location to help guide you: Sandhill Crane in Newark DE