Bird Updates: Sandhill Cranes and Tree Swallows

Some of the local birds have been busy lately, fascinating to watch. Some updates to previous posts.


The boys monitoring the ditch on the west side of the road.

Earlier this month while walking my dogs on our usual valley road, I heard sandhill cranes making more than their usual ruckus. (I wrote about two cranes that visited my lot last year here, and included some video clips where you can hear their distinctive calls.) It was clear they were upset about something.

Searching the pasture on the east side of the road for the cranes.

While the boys went about the business of searching the ditches beside the road for voles, I looked across a pasture to try to locate the cranes. To my surprise, instead of cranes the movement I saw was a coyote. Suddenly the insistence of the crane’s calls made sense: they had a predator to contend with.

Same image, with the coyote circled (well, scribbled; I couldn’t make a nice circle no matter how often I tried). He was quite a distance away.

When writing about sandhill cranes last September I included some general information about them. I learned that when approached by a land predator, the cranes hiss, spread their wings and poke the air menacingly with their bills. If the predator’s not scared off by those tactics and comes too close, the cranes will stab – their bills can pierce the skull of a small carnivore – and kick.

Among the land predators they must contend with: coyotes.

I imagine that in addition to the loud and persistent calls I heard, these cranes were also flapping their enormous wings and moving their heads and bills in threatening manners to keep the coyote at bay. They’re large birds, prehistoric looking, almost as big as a coyote. Their tactics worked, because the coyote retreated.

Poor quality video (sorry; shooting into the morning sun), but you can hear the cranes and see the coyote retreating up the open slope in the far middle distance.

I never did see the cranes that morning, just the coyote. The next day, however, I was driving past that pasture and saw two cranes moving in the grass among the shrubs that dot that particular slope. I’m sure they’re the same cranes I heard defending themselves or perhaps a new nest against the invading coyote the day before.

Cranes foraging near where I heard them the day before and where I saw the coyote retreating. (They’re in front of the shrubs with the big tree directly behind them.)

Amazing that they can intimidate a coyote. I hope my dogs never encounter a sandhill crane!


Recently I was enjoying the evening by reading on the deck as the sun slowly moved toward the horizon. Earlier I had mowed the lawn, so I was treating myself to some relaxation, a glass of cheap red wine enhancing the ambiance. I’d given the boys marrow bones to gnaw on, so they, too, were happy and mellow.

dogs, yard
A peaceful evening, the boys enjoying their bones on newly-mowed grass. See the female tree swallow sitting on the fence rail, just to the right of the second post from the left?

Apparently the setting sun put the resident tree swallows in an amorous mood. Taking no heed of me or the boys just feet away, a pair commenced their mating ritual on the fence rail, the sunset a glorious backdrop to their romance.

birds, fence
The male approaches his patient mate, his wings and tail feathers afire with the light of the setting sun.
birds, fence, sunset
His approach wasn’t quite right so he peels off to make another attempt.
birds, fence, sunset
Trying again….
birds, fence, sunset
Success! At least, one hopes. Time will tell.
Amorous tree swallows. (Please ignore the bouncing optical effect created by my phone video camera – or think of it as Tinkerbell, as one friend suggested – as well as the sound of my dogs gnawing on their marrow bones.)

After all that drama, the male flew off, leaving the female alone on the fence rail, thinking whatever keeping-the-species-going thoughts she had before retreating to the nest box for the night.

If you learn how to be still and calm, to look and quietly observe, there’s never a dull moment in the natural world, including in your yard. Plants and animals are always moving, changing, evolving, creating another generation. Always something to see.

9 thoughts on “Bird Updates: Sandhill Cranes and Tree Swallows”

    1. They seem quite adept at fending off predators! It was fascinating to watch the coyote give up so easily, although maybe it had previously learned what a fight they can put up. What they might not be able to fend off much longer is human-caused climate change and loss of habitat 😦

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I’ve been enjoying your bird posts as Beth and I have become backyard birders over the last few months. Those Sandhill Cranes are really large. Video’s are great too. I love the dogs chewing on bone soundtrack.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One of the benefits of our “normal” world being turned upside down is time and a desire to turn a sharper focus on the little things that are nearby but we maybe didn’t pay much attention to in the past. I’m enjoying learning more about the flora and fauna here, which is so different from what I was used to seeing most of my life near Seattle where you and Beth are. Sandhill cranes just one great example. All of it is fascinating. Glad you’re enjoying the posts 🙂


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