In early January we drove to California’s delta to see sandhill cranes wintering there. Sandhill cranes are tall (.8 – 1.2 m or 2.5 ft – 4 ft) with large wingspans (1.6 – 2.3 m or 5.5 ft – 7.5 ft). Sandhill cranes soar well and migrate long distances. With their long legs, neck and wings, they need time and space to take off, so they land in open fields. Sandhill cranes stay in groups for safety in numbers, with one or more cranes on the lookout while others root for seeds or anything else they can find.
We visited the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve, shown by the red balloon in the upper-right corner of the map.
The delta (the blue waterways in the upper right of the map) is formed by two rivers draining California’s Central Valley, where the water works its way through the coastal mountains to the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. California’s delta is shaped like a triangle, but it’s unusual because a corner of the triangle drains to the sea with the rest of the triangle facing inland. This pictorial article provides an excellent overview of the delta.
The sandhill crane’s red crown is a featherless patch of skin that swells with blood and turns red when the crane is excited.
Sandhill cranes fly with their necks stretched forward and their legs trailing behind. These greater sandhill cranes summer in Washington, Oregon, and northern California.
We attended a talk and a tour that allowed us to see sandhill cranes preparing to roost at night. The cranes roost (land to spend the night) in shallow water where they can hear any predators approaching in the dark. Cranes fly out to forage in fields during the day and then gather in flooded fields at dusk.
The four cranes below are all landing in their roosting area. The one on the right just landed. Cranes spread out their wings to slow down to land without pitching forward on their long legs.
California’s delta is an important wintering area for water birds like the sandhill crane.