Yesterday my husband and I were driving home from the coast. We were between Sheepscot and Whitefield, towns well inland, when I saw a pair of big birds standing in a field of high grass near the road. They were sandhill cranes. We did not stop to take a photo so I borrowed one from Pixnio. The cranes I saw looked quite similar to this pair. I don’t know if they were greater or lesser sandhills. It was extremely surprising to me to see these birds in Maine since I thought they only lived far west of us.
The birds were quite tall, over 3 feet, and a dusky brown color with some gray. They were standing facing one another less than a foot apart, beaks lowered, like they were staring in each other’s eyes. They may have been a mated pair or even rivals looking for a fight. I wish now we had stopped and watched them for a bit.
A little research reveals that within the past twenty years, these cranes have moved into Maine during the summer to breed. Last year I thought I saw a crane hunting at our pond one day, but it left quickly and I didn’t get a good look at it. I figured it was really a great blue heron, although my eyes told me it looked like a crane. Now I know I saw a crane!
The first sandhill cranes were spotted in Maine in 1999. Since then sightings have increased and breeding pairs have been found. The birds breed May-July. The pair I saw could be summer residents or just passing through on the beginning of their long flight south to spend the winter in the southwestern US or Mexico.
It is unknown if the birds once populated Maine and just died off due to human pressure, or if sandhill cranes are moving into new territory. There are no reliable historic records of sandhill cranes in Maine. It may be that the global warming trend is making our chill northern state attractive to cranes. In this state we do have lots of wetland and farmland, the birds preferred habitat. I hope one or two or even a whole flock land here at our farm pond so I can get a good look at them and maybe even some pictures.