It’s November, and to me, that means the opening of the winter season for the wildlife refuges here in California. The winter migrants are in progress of arriving, and by this time, most of the Sandhill Cranes are here as well as some of the geese and ducks that depend on the refuges for their winter homes.

Over the next couple of months, the Sandhill Cranes will rest, feed, gain weight and get ready for the spring trip north for breeding season. The Cranes are one of the species that bond with a mate for multiple seasons, often for the time both of the pair are alive. The courting and pairing off happens in the winter, with the males displaying and courting females and working to attract their attention and interest.

One of the things they do is vocalize and dance, strutting around, fluttering wings, posturing and doing short flights to impress potential partners. It’s a truly beautiful moment to watch if you’re lucky enough to see it happen — I’ve had my best luck in late November or early December, as with this bird.

The birds to the left are younger birds, since you can see they haven’t yet grown into their red adult masks. And it looks like they’re watching with great attention.

Will one of them be the partner he flies north with and spends the rest of his life with? I’ll never know, but he seems to be doing a good job of convincing them.


Sandhill Cranes Dancing, Merced National Wildlife Refuge