Sandhill Cranes at Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, TN

2015-01-16 Sandhills 037Tens of thousands of cranes gather at Hiwassee. Gruuu gruuu: sound resonates within the trachea coiled within their sternum. Horn section of the avian band. An ancient sound; Sandhill Cranes have flown across North America for at least ten million years.

In this recording, made on my phone, you’ll hear the cranes overhead, and the ack-ack artillery of photographers shooting their pixel flak skyward:

2015-01-16 Sandhills 028“…not quite the world’s” William Stafford, Watching Sandhill Cranes

“…so stears the prudent Crane/Her annual Voiage, born on Windes;/the Aire
Floats, as they pass, fann’d with unnumber’d plumes…” John Milton, Paradise Lost

“The crane’s legs/have gotten shorter/in the spring rain” Basho (Matsuo Kinsaku)

2015-01-16 Sandhills 022

21 thoughts on “Sandhill Cranes at Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, TN

  1. Anonymous

    The last few months I have been hearing fly over Sewanee at night and after cold fronts passing…beautiful song!

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Good question. The date of origin of cranes is unclear. Perhaps 35 million?
      Fain, Matthew G., Carey Krajewski, and Peter Houde. “Phylogeny of “core Gruiformes”(Aves: Grues) and resolution of the Limpkin–Sungrebe problem.” Molecular phylogenetics and evolution 43.2 (2007): 515-529.

      1. Jonathan Meiburg

        Look like there aren’t any South American cranes…could it be they haven’t yet noticed it? After all, it only docked with NA about 3 mya.

        1. David George Haskell Post author

          Interesting question. They definitely have a Laurasian biogeography. You’d think they’d do pretty well somewhere like the Pantanal. Maybe they are so late on the scene that the herons, spoonbills, whistling ducks, etc have got the habitat all claimed?

          Maybe give the biogeographic pot a stir and release of some sandhills down there?

  2. Sue

    Love your description, “Horn section of the avian band.” Not sure where the heron’s and their awful squawk fit in the musical line up.

  3. paddywoodworth

    Lovely to hear this crane music at my desk in Dublin, thank you! Last heard on over the suburbs of Chicago last November. And brings back happy memories of chasing Operation Migration and their whooping cranes inTennessee in 2003…I had never seen that Milton quote. ‘Crane’ is a problematic word in British- and Hiberno-English, as it has been commonly also used for our grey heron for centuries, and still is. The haunting quote that Peter Mathiessen used from John Clare’s Shepherd’s Calendar in his marvelous ‘Birds of Heaven’ —

    While far above the solitary crane
    Swings lonely to unfrozen dykes again
    Cranking a jarring melancholy cry
    Through the wild journey of the cheerless sky

    almost certainly refers to a heron, as Jeremy Mynott writes in the equally marvelous ‘Birdscapes’. But Milton seems to have been writing about Grus grus alright, which has happily now returned to Britain as a breeding bird, and is turning up again more regularly on migration over Irish skies.

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Thank you, Paddy, for these wonderful thoughts and quotes. Also of linguistic note: pedigree and hoodwinked derive from cranes: “foot of crane” and an unpleasant way of bringing birds to market.

      Around here, confusion over identification causes conservation problems. Tennessee just legalized limited hunting of Sandhills, but confusion with Whooping cranes is a problem.

  4. Janet Beasley

    Wonderful, thank you! Grus?? Named by a scientist with poor knowledge of
    German spelling?? Gruss – greeting. Sorry, couldn’t resist :-((( Gruss or Grüsse (plural)
    is a common term used in letters or notes.
    Janet Beasley

      1. Janet Beasley

        That’s very, very good after 30 years :-) Especially the use of the “ß” which I keep forgetting. You must have had an inspiring teacher. I’ve been in the US more than
        double the years since you studied German and have made use of the language
        professionally. It wasn’t until I read Mark Twain’s essay, “The Awful German
        Language” that I realized how difficult it must be for someone to learn it
        from scratch.
        Mit freundlichen Grüßen :-))

  5. martine

    Thank you very much for this article about Sandhill cranes.
    As we live on a migration route of the cranes on their journey to or back from Scandinavia, each time they fly by is a wonderful experience, full of emotions. I am not ashamed to confess that some of us sometimes cry and wish them a good journey ! You may smile :-) !

    By the way, cranes are called “grues” (cendrées) in french, not so far from “Grus” !


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