There's a newcomer in New Hampshire, a bird that's wild and prehistoric in looks and sound. The bugling of sandhill cranes is common in Wisconsin and Michigan where their numbers have rebounded from near eradication some 70 years ago. That rebound—from the low hundreds to over 50,000 today—has likely led to a range expansion eastward to New England. There's 11 known pairs breeding in Maine, and a few in Massachusetts, Vermont and New York. Surely New Hampshire is next.
Cranes have been sighted in the state including one sandhill that returned ten straight summers to Monroe, along the upper Connecticut River—but always solitary, without a mate. Historically, we don't know for sure if sandhill cranes ever nested in New England. Large wading birds were called both "crane" and "heron" back before species names were standardized.
Today, especially with the use binoculars, it's impossible to confuse crane for heron. Great blue herons, common in New Hampshire, are large, long-legged and gray, but are just half the weight of a sandhill. They also lack the crane's conspicuous red crown patch. Cranes keep on the move as they probe and peck for prey, often gleaning farm fields. They also nest on the ground while herons build large stick nests in trees over water.
There's another unique sandhill crane behavior: In addition to bugling duets at dawn and dusk, they're known for an elaborate courtship dance, running, leaping and bowing with wings extended, vocalizing throughout. If you're witness to any of this, be sure to let New Hampshire Audubon know! We're very eager for the first evidence of a breeding pair.