For the past couple of weeks, I have been hearing a smattering of reports of greater sandhill cranes heading north.  However, the large, gray, long-legged birds had eluded me until a couple of days ago when I spotted six flocks passing over my home.  Two days later, I saw another flock.  All of the birds were flying northwest.

        Seeing the large birds flying north in late winter is always a special event for folks like me that are not fond of winter.  This is because the sandhill crane is a true harbinger of spring.     

        If you would like to see sandhill cranes passing over your yard, here are a some tips you should find helpful. 

        First of all, it has been my experience that you will hear the birds before you ever spot them.  The call of the sandhill crane sounds something like a rolling Garoo a-a-a  interspersed with cacophony of shrill, almost bell-like rattles and croaks.  If you hear these sound coming from upon high, look in that direction.

        Flocks of sandhill cranes constantly change their shape.  They can be flying in an undulating V formation one moment and suddenly appear to be totally disoriented and flying about in broad circles the next.

        If you have a pair of binoculars, take a close look at the birds.  If the large birds are gray and flying with outstretched necks and have long legs extending beyond their tails, you are looking at sandhill cranes and not geese.

        Nowadays, since efforts are underway to establish a breeding population of whooping cranes  in the Midwest, it is possible to see a whooping crane or two interspersed with the sandhill cranes.  The birds migrate and winter together. 

        During the past two winters whooping cranes are been seen wintering with sandhill cranes here in the Peach State.

        It is easy to separate a whooping crane from a sandhill.  Whooping cranes  are white and sport black wingtips.  If you are lucky enough to see a whooping crane, that would truly be something special.

        At any rate, take the time to look and listen for sandhill cranes.  If you are lucky enough to spot them migrating north, you will be witnessing an event that ornithologists tell us has been going for well more than two million years.

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