By Kachemak Crane Watch
Arrival of the Sandhill Cranes is one of the sure signs that spring is here. It is a Homer spring ritual to eagerly await and greet these majestic birds that have flown over 3000 miles from California’s Central Valley to return to their nesting grounds in Homer.
Within the next month, Sandhill Crane pairs will begin nesting in the area. Crane pairs bond for life and often return to the same nesting location. Learning more about local crane nesting ecology is part of a three-year field study initiated by the Kachemak Crane Watch and the International Crane Foundation.
This summer will be the second year of data collection. The first year’s research has shown cranes nest in a variety of habitats from tidal wetlands to upland habitat. Of the 24 nesting pairs reported, only five nests were located.
“We would like to improve on the success of finding the nests and private landowner cooperation is imperative,” said Edgar Bailey, Kachemak Crane Watch co-founder. Since most nests are located on private property, landowner assistance is necessary for success.
“If you have a pair of cranes on your property this year, they may be building a nest nearby,” says Michelle Michaud, wildlife biologist leading the study.
She would like to observe the nests from a safe distance to get an idea of their location so that once the eggs have hatched and the cranes have begun foraging with their chicks (known as colts) away from the nest, she can try to locate the nest and collect data. Reporting of crane pair sightings and nesting behavior early in the season is needed.
“If I learn of a nest late in the season, the vegetation around the nest has grown substantially and finding the nest becomes difficult, if not impossible,” says Michaud. The study is also looking at the reproductive success of the cranes so Michaud will also be tracking the survival rate of colts that make it to the fledgling stage.
The final aspect of the project is estimating the size of the population.
Michaud reports that large crane groups are generally seen on the Homer tidelands, atop the bluff, and east of town, around the McNeil Canyon area and along East End Road. Persons are encouraged to report nesting cranes to Michaud at email@example.com or at 399-3159.
To celebrate the crane, which is such an iconic symbol for Homer, this year’s Kachemak Shorebird Festival (May 10-13th), keynote speaker will be George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation. Besides other crane related presentations and events, at 4 p.m. on May 10 at the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, Nina Faust and Michelle Michaud will be presenting a program on the crane nesting ecology study and showing a video documenting the life of a Sandhill Crane nesting pair located in Homer during the breeding season.
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