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Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) return to our area in south central Wisconsin around the third week of February. This winter and spring have been so uncharacteristically warm that people were wondering if they would show up earlier, but cranes time their seasonal migrations by photo period, or the length of sunlight over consecutive days. Lengthening days trigger hormonal floods that tell them when to head north, when to breed and – at the end of the summer – shortening days indicate it’s time to gather by the thousands in nearby fields and migrate south for the winter.

This is a block print I just completed of a Sandhill Crane and will make an attempt at hand coloring in the next few days. Just about now Sandhills engage in feather painting themselves, taking mud from around their nest site and preening it into their feathers. The iron oxide in the soil stains the bird’s feathers a deep rust color, providing an excellent camouflage for the otherwise conspicuous 4.5 ft. tall creatures. Other functions of this ritual may also be an indication to their mate that they are ready to breed and insect repellant.