This morning, the sun peeked out over the abandoned golf course behind our house and spread gold over the drainage pond. Another perfect, Florida day. Suddenly, the neighbors’ dogs barked urgently and got louder. Looking out of the window I saw why. Right in front of my bedroom was a large Florida Sandhill Crane. He stood approximately 5ft with long legs and a long snake-like neck. He was handsome; gray feathers, a long black beak, and a bright red patch on his head.
Totally unfazed by the dogs, he concerned himself with a small twig and the ‘dance’ he appeared to be performing. He would occasionally emit “Roh, Roh” sounds followed by a loud “Fraawnk! Frawwnk!” Just as my family came to the window to see what was going on, another Crane (slightly smaller, female) came in to view. We were about to witness the Sandhill Crane's mating ritual, right outside my bedroom window!
The male, still undeterred by his audience bucked his head then thrust it forward in the direction of the female. He flung one stick-like leg toward her whilst the other lashed out sideways. He then gently threw a twig in her direction. As if to exaggerate his performance, he spread his wings (whilst splaying his legs), which meant he leapt off the ground two or three feet. With each flutter he called out a "Roh Roh" croak of deep affection (difficult I imagine because he was also warning the dogs next door with his Fraawnk! Fraawnk!)
He then bowed to the female and repeated the ritual over and over. She occasionally joined in, rearing her head and croaking, leaping and flapped her wings, but mostly she showed deep indifference to his mighty effort; she seemed much more interested in foraging. We couldn't help but laugh, (it was so comical and would have been a winner on America's funniest home videos, but we were too entranced to move). Occasionally they would bow as if in sync. She stayed close by him despite the increasingly urgent barking and her bow's clumsy display of affection. Both of them were in a world of their own; both under the spell of nature’s urge to procreate.
My kids had a good lesson in nature that morning. Later, we googled the Sandhill Crane and realized we'd witnessed the mating ritual. Apparently, the male was offering the female a twig in order to build the nest, which was his way of courting her. The whole scenario lasted about 5 minutes then the female appeared to ‘wake up’ and hear the dogs. She departed with wide strides toward the pond, her neck slinking like a snake. Abandoned now, the male also awoke and noticed us. He appeared sheepish and embarrassed initially and then alarmed at the dogs (who were frothing at the mouth by now). He lurched off; his long legs striding in the females’ direction and his long neck stretched forward like a snake about to strike.
What a great way to start the day! We are so lucky to be living here in Tampa Bay surrounded by such an abundance of wildlife right outside our door. We were thoroughly entertained and amused and it was miles better than watching it on TV or reading about it in a book.
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