Watch the skies; Sandhill crane colts ready to fledge

Jul 24, 2020

Sandhill cranes in Kachemak Bay.
Credit Nina Faust, Kachemak Crane Watch

Starting any day now, if they haven’t already, scores of fast-growing young Sandhill Cranes around Homer will start taking to the sky. The fledgling colts have two months or less to get into flying shape in order to make the migration down to the Lower 48 with their parents.
    Nina Faust is the director of Kachemak Crane Watch.
    “We're looking at the ones that nested early May; 60 to 70 days after early May would put them fledging around about the middle of July to the end of July,” Faust said. “Some of them that nested a little later won't fledge until the end of July or into the first couple of weeks of August.”
    Faust says she knows of one nesting pair whose first clutch was taken. They laid another egg, but Faust says that young colt probably won’t fledge until the end of August.
    For those that do make it to the fledgling stage, expect to see them venturing out with their parents soon.
    “They're going to stay with their parents. They're not going to go off purposefully by themselves. They might get lost, that's happened, but they usually go back to the communal roost and they get reunited,” she said. “But no, generally they don't take off and fly on their own. They take off and go flying with their parents. Their parents will urge them to get up and fly and they'll take them different places. They will fly them around, yes, indeed. They have to, they gotta get those wing strengths grown.”
    Despite their quick growth, Faust says the colts are still very vulnerable to predation.
    “We've lost some to eagles, we've lost some to coyotes and some to loose dogs,” she said. “And then I had one pair actually lose both their colts to some unknown disease or something they ate. We don't really know what happened.”
    Faust says the carcass of one of those dead colts was collected and sent to the state veterinarian in Anchorage for examination to determine if the cause of death might have been avian flu or toxins.
    Faust says the reports that are sent to Kachemak Crane Watch is citizen science vital to tracking the birds’ overall health.
    “It's a pretty interesting and unique type of knowledge base that doesn't happen in a lot of places, because finding crane nests isn't always easy. But when you have them nesting right in a community and people have them neighbors, it makes it a lot easier. So we have the potential to find out some interesting information and I intend to, hopefully if we can, if it is possible, to collect any other future carcasses and continue to send them on up to the state veterinarian, because we might find out something interesting that the world of crane experts would find fascinating.”
    KBBI had one last question for Faust: what’s her opinion on the crane mural adorning the new Homer Police Station?
    “Oh, it's wonderful. It's absolutely stunning. I saw that first posted on Facebook and I hadn't even had a chance to see it. I didn't even know it was going up,” Faust said. “But what is apropos is that stunning mural of those beautiful cranes is right across the street from what I called, I used to call, the flagship of crane art in Homer, which is the Homer Public Library. They have a beautiful sign in front of them that's got cranes on it and inside they've got beautifully done Willow stem cranes flying from their ceiling, and they've got cranes on their doors and they've got cranes on their bike rack. It's kind of apropos to have the police station right across from the library where there's wonderful crane art in both places now. It's lovely.”
    If you have crane sighting reports you’d like to make, you can find Kachemak Crane Watch on Facebook.