A welcome imposter

DT6C5448, Whooping Crane, Sandhill Crane, flight

Just another group of Sandhill Cranes … or maybe not.

When a Whooping Crane pretends it’s a Sandhill Crane, the only thing that makes sense is those famous lyrics from the Sesame Street song:

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong here …

The surreal scene began with me standing in the ditch at the side of a grid road a few kilometres from home. Beyond the barbed wire fence, a large stubble field stretched out before me that was occupied by snacking Sandhill Cranes and geese.

After photographing the birds feeding in the stubble, waves of sandhills starting flying into the field. I would hear them in the distance and line up my camera as they got within range.

Suddenly I saw a huge white bird flying in among the next wave as though it was just part of the gang. This wasn’t exactly a seamless camouflage. In fact, I don’t know of any bird that could stick out more glaringly. A Sandhill Crane is an impressive size but quickly gets dwarfed by the Whooping Crane’s impressive proportions. The stark black and white feathers only amplified the contrast.

DT6C5469, Whooping Crane, Sandhill Crane, feeding

It’s not exactly Where’s Waldo, but if you look very carefully, you might find a whopper of a crane in the photo.

Despite the comical-like differences, the Whooping Crane flew, walked, ate and wandered around as though it was just a part of the sandhill gang.

I had to admire the chutzpah. Apparently it was just believing something to make it seem like it was true. Maybe I’ll have to try that sometime.

Krahnpix note: I am still pinching myself that I had the opportunity to photograph one of the rarest birds in North America- there are less than 500 Whooping Cranes in the wild. This may have been a younger bird that got separated from the rest that migrate over a good portion of North America. The route just happens to cross over Saskatchewan.

DT6C5453, Whooping Crane, Sandhill Crane, flight

Whooping Cranes have an impressive wingspan of 7-8 feet.

Latest Comments

  1. Jane Walker says:

    Thanks for sharing these amazing photos. I love your blog and should comment more often. I’ve never seen cranes in the wild. How beautiful they are!


  2. Dick Trew says:

    I chuckled at my response–of course it’s straight anthropomorphism, but… I remembered playing with an older friend who would occasionally join my friends and me (much, much younger) in some sports. He was so cool–skilled and not at all concerned about being seen with young (and much smaller) “athletes”. When he played, we all played better and he showed enough restraint that he never dominated. I had no difficulty imagining the Sandhills accepting the Whooper in such a vein. I also thought of my older friend who was not afraid to give some younger ones a chance to dream of a day when they, too, would be able to “play” at another level! The laugh’s on me. Thanks for letting me share. I imagine that when one posts an image it is impossible to imagine the shores on which the “ripple” might lap.


    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Memories are wonderful and can be triggered by all sorts of things so it’s fun to see where they land. I enjoyed your story from days gone by and I can definitely see how it applies to the crowd I photographed. Taking it one step further, it appeared like they too were all benefitting from the experience.


  3. Delft says:

    Poor bird. I hope it finds back to it’s own kind…
    Beautiful shots!


  4. Ingrid says:

    Great shots….I didn’t expect to see whooping cranes in my new location and am totally enthralled 🙂


  5. Phil Lanoue says:

    What a tremendous experience and a real treat I expect. Congrats on this rare and wonderful sighting.


  6. caleephotography says:

    Wow, congratulations!! to the sighting and the great photographs! What a treat, and thanks for sharing this rarity!


  7. Steve Gingold says:

    It’s always fun to find the one amongst the many, isn’t it? Considering that birds tend to flock together, it is interesting to find the one exception and wonder why.
    All nice ones, Lyle. For obvious reasons here in the dead of winter, so to speak, the second nice warm image is especially appealing.


    • Lyle Krahn says:

      I have a few images from fall that I have been saving for that very reason – it drags out the feeling and helps me nurse through the wildlife drought that winter typically brings.

      You’re so right about finding that one in a crowd and wondering why. The interesting part is that I’ll never know.


  8. vanbraman says:

    Definitely easier to find than Waldo in the pictures. Glad that you were able to capture pictures of this whopper.


  9. Gunta says:

    Oh Lyle, that is utterly fantastic. Having watched that video about the folks raising the whooping cranes, it makes sense to me that this guy appears to have imprinted on the sandhills. Now I’m wondering if they can cross breed? I find all this stuff about rescuing these precious birds so fascinating.


  10. melodylowes says:

    Wow, wow, wow. The sighting AND photos of a lifetime!! How amazing that you were able to capture this rare bird. I’m feeling almost famous, just knowing you! 😉


  11. debbie gillespie says:

    Lyle, how amazing is such a fantastic moment! You should submit this to the Audobon Society or Cornell Laboratories. Thank you for sharing these delightful photos and stories behind them.


  12. nliakos says:



  13. Mike Powell says:

    Congratulations, Lyle, on your newest (and probably rarest) capture. It certainly deserves a boisterous celebration. If you celebrate, be sure to get some photos–we all want to see what a Whooping Krahn looks like.


  14. westerner54 says:

    Awesome. I’ve read that researchers actually put whooping cranes eggs in sandhill nests to see if they will raise them – wonder if that could have happened here? Amazing.


  15. judysbirds says:

    Wow. What an opportunity. I remember when I was younger, and there were something like 50-some Whooping Cranes left in the wild. Their comeback must still be tenuous with only 500 in the wild, but maybe someday…


    • Lyle Krahn says:

      It was a great opportunity. From the reading I’ve done, the comeback has been challenging but they seem to be making steady progress. There are also birds in captivity that are being reintroduced to the wild. Thankfully it’s not the crisis it was.


  16. Mind Margins says:

    Wow, what an amazing thing to happen! Did you notice the tags on its leg? And I thought most of them wintered in South Texas? I’ve never seen one, but I’ve often thought of making the trip down to Padre to see them.


  17. toughlittlebirds says:

    I like the (maybe inadvertent?) use of “Whopping Crane” in the photo caption – they are whopping [big] cranes!
    I wonder if you could find out who this guy is. You can see the bands easily in the photo, so anyone working with the Whooping Cranes would know who he is.


  18. Kerry Statham says:

    Congrat’s Lyle! What a find…


  19. Dana S. Hugh says:

    Lovely pictures of delicate & gracious creatures.


  20. Jeff | Planet Bell says:

    I wonder if he ever found his own flock again, or just went off to live with the Sandhill Cranes? You might be interested in this if you haven’t seen it before. They are using ultralight planes to help reintroduce Whooping Cranes to places in the eastern U.S. http://www.operationmigration.org


  21. whichwaynow101 says:

    Great post. Thanks for sharing. I recently looked up the difference between whopping and sandhill cranes and couldn’t really see it but wow does the diff show up in your photos!


  22. Seenorway says:

    Congrats with a fabulous top picture, Lyle!!!
    I noticed that whiteish color compared to the others and thought for a moment it was a mother with her yearlings, but then there was the size . . .
    So they mix company? A bit unusual perhaps? But it made for an excellent photo!!!


    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Thanks so much. I don’t really know if they typically mix company but it’s definitely unusual to have one all on its own. And you’re right, it definitely made for a good photo.


I'd love to hear what you are thinking ...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s