Whoever it was that cautioned against putting all your eggs into one basket obviously never spent much time traipsing around a marsh trying to locate Sandhill crane nests.

It would be much easier to find them if they were in one location! 

Since last Saturday, Jeff Fox, Brooke, Colleen, Joe and yours truly have spent hours each day trudging through water, ice and black gooey muck. When we aren’t actually IN the marsh, we watch the marsh for a grey head with a red cap that might pop up just at the exact moment you’re watching a particular spot. 

You can’t look away because as soon as you do, up goes the head like that carnival game Whack-a-mole. 

A Sandhill playing peek-a-boo about a quarter mile away.

We also scan nearby fields for single Sandhills because if a single bird is present, well that could mean that its mate is in the marsh incubating and it might just be the owner of the head we’re waiting for to pop up to give away its nest location. 

Why, you ask, are we hoping to find Sandhill nests? We are carrying out a study at White River Marsh to evaluate nest success and fledging rates among the Sandhills in the area. If the Sandhills can breed and successfully raise young to fledging age, then there should be no reason their Whooping crane cousins can’t also be fruitful.

So we plan on finding nests, then when the chicks hatch, we will attempt to capture them and place these tiny transmitters on them, using a technique Jeff developed and has used successfully hundreds of times.

Transmitters weigh less than 3 grams.

Each transmitter is sewn into a piece of fabric, which has been colored to be the same color as a Sandhill crane chick. Once encased in fabric, they are then sewn onto a small square of the same fabric, which will be glued onto the back of the chick with eyelash glue – yes, eyelash glue (it dries very quickly and is waterproof). 

The battery life for these tiny units are 115 days, which will allow us to track the youngsters until they fledge, or die (but hopefully fledge!). 

So, we trudge through the mud – occasionally getting stuck (speaking from personal experience, not fun!) and occasionally finding a nest. So far, we have found four nests – and there are still three that are active. The first egg we found didn’t even appear to be in a formed nest. It was almost as if the female was just strolling through the marsh and dropped a random egg. 

An egg found simply sitting on top of the dried grasses.

When Jeff first found it, it was intact. Joe and I returned two days later, hoping to find a second egg but instead we found the first egg broken.

Jeff isn’t having much luck locating Sandhill nests in known nesting territories at Necedah and we should have located more than four nests by now. The only explanation is that everything seems to be slowed this year due to the cold weather and chances are, the 16-20 inches of snow the area received two weeks ago delayed nesting even further.

But we’ve had a few days of 50-60 degree weather so we’ll keep trudging and will update you in a few days to let you know how many nests we’ve found.

Jeff and Colleen return from checking a possible nest.

In the meantime, we have to thank everyone who very generously contributed all the items from our Amazon wish list! The chest waders and boots are incredibly comfortable and very easy to wear for the 10-12 hours a day we’re out in the field. The spotting scope is amazing and all the other equipment will be put to use once these little fluffers start hatching. Thanks so much!

If you would like to contribute to help fund our work this year, please click here

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  1. lilbirdz May 1, 2018 4:27 pm

    I hope that the sandhill cranes do well. Nevertheless, I really miss the chatters, the Mods, the Tumes, and watching those adorable cinnamon buns grow into airborn White Birds. Sigh.

  2. Catherine Wohlfeil April 30, 2018 11:03 pm

    They seem quite long in comparison to what I picture as chick size. Is the spreading of the wings and flight attempts what knocks the transmitter off at some point?

    Just a thought but since migration path doesn’t seem to be an issue could a transmitter be attached to the nesting material itself then do a silent or low volume flight path overhead with a drone to check on progress once a week???

    • Heather Ray May 1, 2018 10:49 am

      I think you’re referring to the antenna which points downward amd is needed so that our receivers detect a signal from the (dime sized) transmitter.

  3. Jean P. aka CrabtowneMd April 30, 2018 9:10 am

    Eggs in a basket; then finding transmitters will be finding “a needle in a haystack”! I admire the determination, dedication, and stalwart energy the OM team exhibits daily. Hoping warmer weather arrives and you find many sandhill and whooper nests.

  4. kat April 30, 2018 7:26 am

    Will the transmitters eventually fall off?

    • Heather Ray April 30, 2018 8:41 am

      Yes, then we have to try to locate it.