SANDHILL CRANE: ANOTHER NEW BIRD FOR ABACO, BAHAMAS
Still they keep arriving, the new birds that have never before graced the shores of Abaco Recently it was a Canada warbler, at the lower end of the size scale. The elegant sandhill crane (Antigone canadensis) is the 10th new species for Abaco since the publication of The Birds of Abaco in March 2014. If you are wondering why the bird is not called Grus canadensis any longer, it’s because the genus of the bird was reclassified by the ABA in 2016. Out with dreary old Grus and in with exciting Oedipus’s daughter (or was she his half-sister? They… erm… had the same mother… Discuss, using both sides of the exam paper) in Greek mythology…
As the crane’s canadensis suggests and as range map shows, these are birds of North America, breeding mainly in Canada. In winter they head south to the warmth, reaching Florida as winter migrants. As you can see, the northern part of Florida and also Cuba have small year-round breeding populations. Zero zilch zip nada in the Bahamas.
THE ABACO SIGHTINGS, DECEMBER 2018
At 9.00 am on December 13, the bird above was photographed by Kaderin Mills (of the Bahamas National Trust) on Little Abaco, at the Fox Town Primary School, Crown Haven. The day before, the 12th, the school Principal Mrs Curry had seen the bird in the school grounds feeding on the grass. A couple of phone ‘sighting shots’ were taken before it flew off. Next day it returned, word spread and Kadie Mills recorded the bird officially and put it on eBird to give the newcomer some due publicity. By the early afternoon, Woody Bracey had been told about the bird, and went to take photos. He saw it in the same place the next day too.
OK, FIRST FOR ABACO – AND THE BAHAMAS TOO?
The strict answer is, no. Many years ago, there was a single report of a Sandhill Crane on Andros. It’s not known if the sighting was officially confirmed, but according to expert Bruce Hallett there was a photograph, and the late Tony White, then ‘recorder’ for the Bahamas, saw it. There are no available records, but Tony’s authority on issues around Bahamas birds was (and remains) absolute.
12 CAREFULLY SELECTED SANDHILL CRANE FACTS
- These cranes are social birds, usually living in pairs or in family groups
- Their calls are loud and far-reaching, like a huge crows with a sore throat (below)
- Mated pairs engage in ‘unison calling’, standing close and duetting amorously
- Hatchlings are fully-formed and can leave the nest within a day.
- Juveniles are known as colts (whichever their gender, it seems)
- They have an impressive wingspan as adults, from about 5′ to 7′ 6″
- They are able to soar in flight, using thermals to obtain lift and stay aloft for hours
- Flocks of cranes may be huge – sometimes estimated at over 10,000 individuals
- Their ancestors are among the oldest fossils of any bird species, at around 2.5 M years
- Vagrants have been found as far off piste as Britain (1981, 1991 only), China and Japan
- Many predators call them dinner; but they can kick and stab with their bills in defence
- The sandhills of Cuba form the smallest breeding population, around 300
(Ian Cruickshank / Xeno Canto)
On the map: Abaco’s first ever sandhill crane
Adult with its cutely ungainly, yellow-legged colt
Credits: firstly, to School Principal Mrs Curry for a truly excellent spot; Kaderin Mills (2) – the 1st usable image; Elwood ‘Woody’ Bracey (1, 3, 4, 6); http://www.birdphotos.com / wiki (5); Cornell (range map); Ian Cruickshank / Xeno Canto (audio); Birdorable (cartoon)