Sandhill Cranes are big, tall birds. Some of them are big enough to look me in the eye—almost. They have a wingspan of almost seven feet across. Having them hang out in one’s yard is close to being in an episode of “Animals are Better than People” on the National Geographic channel. (Note: There’s no such show on the National Geographic channel, so don’t look for it.)
In the spring Sandhill Cranes have a funky sex dance they do that resembles teenagers dancing at a high school homecoming. It’s delightful.
Sandhill Cranes are way cool. Except when they aren’t.
We had a family of cranes start dancing around our front yard; we were so thrilled we started throwing money into a ball cap for them. No, not really, actually we started throwing bits of bread into the grass. The Sandhill Cranes loved it.
We loved the Sandhill Cranes. Except when we didn’t.
Over time, feeding the cranes became something of a family tradition. The cranes grew used to finding bread littered across the ground, seemingly from Heaven. We grew used to providing manna to the cranes like creatures of heavenly love and mercy.
We laughed when the cranes met us at the car, trumpeting for bread. We chortled when they began to wait for us at the back door, expectant. We joked when they began to stalk the smaller members of our family: the children, the old people, me. There was uncomfortable giggling when the cranes began to surround the house at odd hours and holler for bread.
On the day that I ran out of Sandhill Crane bread and the birds threatened me with outstretched pterodactyl wings and nightmarish screams of rage, I ran back into the house. I began to search the pantry for something else to feed the gigantic birds. Birds whose knife sharp beaks lined up with my eye sockets perfectly. I found some stale coffee cake shoved behind a bag of powdered sugar. I grabbed it—the cake not the sugar.
Standing behind the screen door I threw the coffee cake at the demon cranes and made a run for the barn. They rejected the coffee cake, registered the bait and switch, and came after me like Navy Seals pursuing Somali pirates. I ran and screamed.
The birds hollered and ran. Throwing myself into the tack room I slammed the door shut just as the beasts careened up onto the stoop. Through the dusty glass of the door, I saw the cranes tipping their heads back and forth, their beady eyes glistening as they worked out a way to destroy me.
Sandhill Cranes like bread. Except when it’s coffee cake.
So this is what I learned from the Sandhill Cranes: free bread makes for mean cranes; handouts do not breed gratitude and patience; cake is no substitute for bread; getting Sandhill Cranes off the dole is dangerous. They tend to object. Strongly. I’m just glad we didn’t start throwing tuna fish to the bobcats in the back pasture.
Linda (Wild Kingdom) Zern