Cranes in Southern NJ

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Jan 25, 2009 | by Adrian Binns

Seventeen of us participated in a DVOC field trip that Tony led to the marshes in Cumberland County. Our target was the Sandhill Crane flock that has been overwintering here for many years. Though much of the marsh was covered in ice we did manage to see Hooded Mergansers, Boat-tailed Grackles, Swamp Sparrows, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Eastern Bluebirds, Bald Eagles and many Northern Harriers as well as successfully locating the cranes.

The flock of 16 cranes had at least one an adult Common Crane mixed in. Upon close inspection the Common Crane certainly does stand out. Slightly smaller than a Sandhill Crane it has an obvious thick black marking down the front of the neck with white down the back of the neck. The deeper red color of the crown is positioned differently, being placed on top with black in front and behind, whereas the Sandhills just have a larger brighter red crown. The Common Crane also has noticeably darker tail bustle and lighter colored bill.

The above photo is a blow up of the top photo. The Common Crane is the lowest bird.

There have been various records of Common Cranes scattered across the northern part of the United States but no one seems to know where this particular individual came from. Their normal range is Northern Europe, Western Asia and Siberia. In 1995 a Sandhill and (escaped)Common did bred in southern New Jersey resulting in two hybrid offspring. Are some of these birds from that original pairing? The general feeling is that this Common Crane is a different individual than the original one, which had a bad foot. Some of the individuals look as though they may be hybrids with varying amounts of darker coloration in the head.

all photos © adrian binns

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