​​​2 Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem
Episode 1: Return of the Sandhill Cranes
13 April 2018
​Even as the snow continues to fall, signs of spring are in the air in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, and one of the biggest, loudest signs of spring is the annual return of the sandhill cranes.
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JENNY>> Welcome to Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, sponsored by the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary. Now here’s your host, Gary Robson:
GARY>> Even as the snow continues to fall, signs of spring are in the air in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. The days are getting longer, the bears are waking from their long winter’s nap, and the migratory birds are coming back for the summer. We’ve seen the robins, grosbeaks, red-winged blackbirds, and mountain bluebirds, and the geese are passing overhead in ever-increasing numbers.
One of my favorite birds, though, is the sandhill crane. They’re … huge! You can see them as they pass by high overhead on their way back from the southern U.S. and northern Mexico, and you can definitely hear them!
[Sandhill crane calls]
That call can be heard over two miles away, which makes them pretty hard to miss, especially during mating season. What you’re listening to there is called a “unison call.” It’s a duet between a male and a female.
LES>> I thought, “let’s get together!” That’s the type of unison call.
GARY>> That’s exactly what that is.
These birds are four feet tall; they’re as big as a great blue heron, but even bulkier. They can weigh over ten pounds and have a wingspan like yours: about six feet.
LES>> Oh, jeez!
GARY>> Here’s a piece of trivia for you. Do you know what a baby sandhill crane is called?
LES>> Um, a cranee in trainee?
GARY>> It’s called a colt.
LES>> A colt?
GARY>> A colt, because they have long legs and they awkwardly prance around.
LES>> I guess that would be true.
GARY>> They have to grow up fast. There’s a lot of predators here that will happily eat a baby crane.
LES>> Oh, I’ll bet so!
GARY>> They’re born covered in down with their eyes open, and they’re out of the nest and walking around within a day. They’ll be able to migrate down to Mexico this fall. We have two of them at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary.
LES>> And I’m sure they’ve got names, don’t they?
GARY>> One of them is Big Bird, and the other is Niles. Niles Crane.
LES>> Niles. That sounds like some sort of a butler to Big Bird, I’m thinking.
Oh! Niles Crane! I see!
GARY>> There we go. Now you’ve got it.
LES>> I see that now.
GARY>> Right now, in fact, we’re doing a capital campaign. Our migratory birds, like the sandhill cranes and the vultures, they’re not used to spending these harsh Montana winters here.
LES>> No.
GARY>> They’re used to heading down south.
LES>> They’d probably like to pack their bags and move on to Arizona.
GARY>> So we have to keep them indoors and take them off display in the winter, but we’re putting together some money for a brand-new enclosure that’s going to give them a heated indoor area so they can get in and out whenever they choose.
LES>> Okay.
GARY>> We’re also going to have a pond and a waterfall for the sandhill cranes, because they nest in marshes and beaver ponds.
LES>> I see. So if we were interested in donating some money to this, how would we go about that?
GARY>> Well, you could call the Sanctuary at 406-446-1133, you can come up and visit (we’re off of 2nd street in Red Lodge), or you can visit YellowstoneWildlifeSanctuary.org.
LES>> All righty. Sounds great!
Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem — of course, we’re probably a little bit more than that, but hey, it’s the first time —
GARY>> It’s the first time. We’re playing with the schedules here.
LES>> Yeah, for sure!
GARY>> We’ll be back at 8:22 next Wednesday, right here on the Mountain.
JENNY>> Thanks for joining us for Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, sponsored by the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary in Red Lodge, Montana. This podcast updates every Friday on iTunes , YellowstoneEcosystem.com, and the Sanctuary’s website, YellowstoneWildlifeSanctuary.org.
Thanks to our recording partners at FM99: the Mountain , where you can hear this show live every Wednesday at 8:22 a.m.
I’m your announcer, Jenny Van Ooyen, and I hope you’ll join me next week for another episode of Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem!    
Artist's rendering of the new crane/vulture habitat planned for summer 2018.
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