Flocks of the largest bird you are apt to see from your backyard are currently passing over Georgia. The birds I am referring to are greater sandhill cranes. The birds are flying NNW (North-Northwest) over the state en route to their breeding grounds in a broad breeding range that includes, but is not limited to, Ohio, Michigan, and southern Ontario.
The greater sandhill crane can weigh anywhere from 9-15 pounds, have a six to seven-foot wing span, and stand five feet tall.
Sandhill cranes migrate in long, meandering V-shaped formations at elevation ranging from 500-5,200 feet above the ground. At times, flocks abandon this flight pattern and seemingly become disoriented. Then they suddenly regroup and continue their journey.
Often you will hear the birds approaching long before you see them. This is because when they are aloft they are constantly communicating with one another with their loud, unmusical calls that sound something like karoo, karoo, karoo. These notes can be heard a mile or two away.
Often when a migratory flock of sandhill cranes is spotted, they are mistaken for Canada geese. However, the Canada goose’s often repeated karonk call sounds nothing like the call of the greater sandhill crane.
After hearing the birds, if you are still perplexed as to whether or not you are looking at geese or cranes, take a close look at the birds. If you see the birds’ legs and feet protruding well behind their bodies, you are looking at a flock of sandhill cranes. Alternately, if the birds’ legs and feet do not extend beyond their tail feathers, you are looking at Canada geese.
I hope you have the opportunity to view one or more flocks of these magnificent birds. Every time that I see them, I consider it a special event. I expect you will too.