Camouflaged Cranes Storm the Horicon Marsh!

Sandhill Cranes on the Horicon Marsh

When I wrote my post about Sandhill Cranes on June 5, 2016, I thought the content was fascinating but the delivery lacked pizzazz. So I asked my brother, who is in the military, if he had some suggestions for making my writing more engaging. This is his version below.

While on my regular reconnaissance of the Marsh, I was shocked to see a formation of Sandhill Cranes conducting maneuvers with their chick. This small squad was patrolling through low vegetation in a farmer’s field on Highway Z as I drove my vehicle from a trip to the Marsh. The adults were probing the soil with their beaks and sharing seeds and insects with their eager chick. The chick actually walked underneath its parent to be as close as possible for its dinner rations.

Sandhill Cranes on the Horicon Marsh

What is wrong with this picture? Adult Sandhill Cranes have gray feathers. In the area surrounding the Horicon Marsh there is a lot of iron in the soil. When a crane brings its beak out of iron-rich soil and preens its feathers, it leaves a rusty residue on its feathers making them appear brown, which creates first-class camouflage helping the cranes to blend into the terrain.

In addition, Sandhill Cranes have a unique rolling call that can travel for miles and allows them to communicate with other squads. Their trachea, or windpipe, is an amazing 27 inches long! It takes a convoluted journey through the front of the chest on its way to the lungs. Part of this area of the chest is not solid bone but 2 frail plates. Our trachea, on the other hand, is a short 4 inches long. It starts at the top of our neck (below the larynx or voice box) and makes a straight shot to our lungs (the bronchi). If you would like to read more about this fascinating subject, check out the article “The Convolution of the Trachea in the Sandhill and Whooping Cranes” by Thomas S. Roberts written in 1880!

I snapped a few pictures of the cranes and continued my reconnaissance on Dike Road. A Killdeer moved a few yards from where it had been resting when it heard the crunch of the gravel under my car tires. I suspect she was sitting on a nest. I will come back soon to continue my surveillance and get a closer look.

Killdeer on the Horicon Marsh

I got a closer look of the Killdeer today and she is faithfully tending her nest. If you would like to read more of my brother’s captivating prose, you can check out his website at


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