When I was driving into town recently, I did a double take as I passed a field of foraging geese and noticed two tall birds accompanying the flock. Canada Geese are common migrants at this time of year, but this pair represents my first sighting of Sandhill Cranes! What a cool sight!
Sandhill cranes are more commonly associated with the prairies, but there is also an eastern population. In Ontario, they mostly breed far north in the Hudson Bay Lowlands, and south to Sudbury through Sault Ste. Marie and Manitoulin Island, with a sprinkling of pairs across the rest of Ontario. In autumn, Sandhill cranes come together into flocks, or stage before heading to Florida and other southern locations for the winter.
Sandhill cranes were extirpated from southwestern Ontario in the 1920s. Today, their numbers are thought to be stable or increasing slightly. Bird Studies Canada estimates their numbers at 40,000 to 80,000 birds.
Googling for information about cranes in Ontario brought up sites suggesting a hunting season should be considered. While I was thrilled to be able to photograph this pair, such sightings make trigger fingers itch for a multitude of hunters. Crane numbers are still infinitesimal when compared to the human population. In 2011, the population of the Greater Toronto Area exceeded 6 million. That’s a lot of people. It’s pretty obvious which species is excessively represented, and it’s not cranes.