Like the swallows of Capistrano, a pair of sandhill cranes have returned to the same White Bear backyard every August for the last 10 years.
The cranes, affectionately nicknamed Guido and Gloria, visit Paul Moe and Debbie Dorner August through November. The couple live in the Bay Lane townhomes off White Bear Parkway.
The male always arrives first, usually in March or April, and taps on the sliding glass door looking for handouts of shelled corn.
The imposing Guido is about 4 1/2 feet tall, larger than the female. “He doesn't like to be ignored,” Moe said. “If I leave the room, he squawks, like he's saying, 'Where do you think you're going?'”
Moe has been documenting dates of the cranes' arrival and departure for the last nine years. Habitually, the male crane disappears shortly after his arrival, then shows up again in early August with his mate and colt, the word for a sandhill chick. All three arrive once the colt can fly, noted Moe, who has done his research on sandhills. He doesn't know where they nest but Moe knows the birds prefer wetland areas safe from predators. “They do not like cats or dogs,” he said. “If a dog gets close, they can disappear in the blink of an eye.”
Every day, the crane family comes to the couple's backyard and taps on the window.
In return for corn, the threesome provides the homeowners a little entertainment. “If the colt gets out of line, the parents peck it as a reprimand. The colt will do silly stuff, too, like a little kid,” Moe observed. They've watched the crane parents teach their colts to dance. Sandhills mate for life and attract their partner via a courtship dance with moves like jumping into the air, bobbing their heads and stretching their wings. Colts stay with the parents up to 10 months after birth.
The family usually stays until early to mid-November. Moe believes they wait for just the right wind currents before flying south. “They have prehistoric habits,” he pointed out, noting that the birds have been around for 2 million years.
Their large wingspans make them skilled soaring birds that use thermals to obtain lift. They're fast flyers and can fly 500 miles a day at altitudes of 7,000 feet, according to an online search. Sandhills can live up to age 20.
And they love corn. The cranes are omnivorous, however. Moe can attest to that. He watched Guido spear a mouse by their bird feeder once and proceed to shake it until it ripped in half. He then shared the meal with the female.
Their neighbors are in on the enjoyment, too. When Moe and Dorner went out of town, neighbors picked up the slack to feed the crane family. If they didn't, Guido and Gloria would let them know about it. “They can be unbelievably loud,” Moe remarked.