by Katerina Lorenzatos Makris
Some of us wear our hearts on our sleeves, as the saying goes, not shy about making our feelings known. Sandhill cranes wear theirs on their faces. Or at least that’s how it looks, doesn’t it, with those schmaltzy red badges above their beaks?
That’s just one of the traits that qualify these birds (Grus canadensis) as romantic types. Here are more:
~ Every March they attend a big singles mixer up in Nebraska. More than half a million convene to feast on corn from local farms, spend their nights on the picturesque sandbars of the Platte River, and check out the eligible bachelors and bachelorettes. Dating is done with great care, because for them, mating is for life.
~ They wear makeup, preening and prettying themselves up by rubbing brown or red, iron-rich mud on their feathers.
~ They perform elaborate dances while courting. The crane version of the tango. The crane-go, if you will. This is not just during the breeding season, but all year long. Quite an active love life. Their moves include bowing, leaping, wing flapping, and tossing sticks or plants into the air.
If their intended partner is not impressed with the show, then no go. So they’d better out-do Dancing With the Stars.
~ They talk. No sitting around sullenly in front of the TV. Frequent and open communication reinforces bonds. Moreover, the lady makes two squawks for every one of the gentleman’s. Now that’s hot, isn’t it? Wow. A guy who listens.
~ Also sexy is the fact that the males share responsibility for the nest-building and child care. Few things make a guy more attractive than that.
~ As previously mentioned, sandhill cranes mate for life. Divorce is rare. In it for the long haul.
In love and in trouble
The sad news is that these beautiful birds’ survival is threatened by habitat loss. Human use and development of wetland areas reduces their opportunities to feed, breed, and shelter, as does climate change.
Two subspecies of sandhill crane are on the U.S. Endangered Species list. The Mississippi subspecies reportedly has just 35 breeding pairs left, and only about 300 individual Cuban sandhill cranes remain.
Groups like the National Wildlife Federation are working to save habitat and restore populations.
What can you do?
If you believe we need romance in the world, write to your lawmakers, urge for preservation of wetlands, advocate for attention to climate change issues, and try to lower the impact of your own habits and lifestyle on the environment, so that these devoted lovebirds can continue dancing the crane-go for generations to come.
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Katerina Lorenzatos Makris is a career journalist, author, and editor. Her fiction includes 17 novels for Simon and Schuster, E.P. Dutton, Avon, and other major publishers (under the name Kathryn Makris), as well as a teleplay for CBS-TV, and a short story for The Bark magazine. She has written hundreds of articles for regional wire services and for outlets such as National Geographic Traveler, The San Francisco Chronicle, Travelers’ Tales, NBC’s Petside.com, Animal Issues Reporter.com, and Examiner.com (Animal Policy Examiner).
Together with coauthor Shelley Frost, Katerina wrote a step-by-step guide for hands-on, in-the-trenches dog rescue, Your Adopted Dog: Everything You Need to Know About Rescuing and Caring for a Best Friend in Need (The Lyons Press).