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Sandhill Cranes migrate to wintering grounds in large groups. This image was captured in late fall/early winter 2013 as Sandhills of all ages congregated at staging areas throughout Wisconsin. Agricultural fields were gleaned of waste grain, small invertebrates and plant material over several weeks. Once the cranes built up enough reserves to sustain them on their journey, they stretched their wings to nearly 6 ft. and let warmer rising air lift them to an altitude where they could glide for miles before having to flap again. This method of flight helps conserve precious energy — especially important if resources are scarce along the flyway.

This  juvenile Sandhill made his (or her) first migration with his family and spent the winter with them. Parents separate from young cranes in the spring when they establish their nest and begin to raise the next generation of Sandhill Cranes.

Juveniles are distinguished from adults by the lack of bare red skin atop their heads. As the cranes mature, a white cheek patch develops as well. Large groups of cranes seen during nesting season are usually young birds that have not yet found a lifelong partner.

Photo by Ted Thousand, ©2014 – all rights reserved.