Nature Blog Network

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Alaska Crane Kindergarten

---For photos on the Christy Yuncker Photo Journal webpage, click here.

Sandhill Crane colts are intensively tutored from day 1. For their parents, summer school teaching is a 24/7 job. The three core subjects (crane versions of the three R's) in Colt School are: Foraging, Display/Dance, and Flying, each of which addresses biological imperatives: nourishment, socialization, and migration. We think of the 14 days after hatching to be crane kindergarten, when the curriculum stresses Foraging first and Display/Dance next.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Return to nestsite and hatch of twin colts

---For photos on the Christy Yuncker Photo Journal webpage, click here.

Our 2009 spring snowfall was heavy; the Fairbanks cross-country ski season lasted into mid-April. Last year's grasses and cranberry bushes are poking above the shrinking snow cover on April 29 as a pair of sandhill cranes drops through the gentle light of early evening onto our Goldstream Valley pond. The signal skin atop their heads is turgid with blood; each bird sports a crimson helmet. They join in unison calls, his pulsating and hers a double note.

Roy dances at 11 PM in the fading light that renders him monochromatic. Dark, severe, silhouetted against the rough gray ice.  
He vocalizes as he spins - crouching, turning, wings outstretched, jumping, wings folded tight to his body, like an avian Baryshnikov dervish, whirling on an empty stage. Joy! Rapture! Triumph! Home again! Relief! 

We cannot document the neurological mechanisms driving this showy behavior, but we believe that it has physiological and subjective correlates akin to those of emotion. In our view, to dismiss emotion as a contributor and to dogmatically categorize such arousal as mere "displacement" is to ignore objective evidence.