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Observes Document Nesting Sandhill Cranes in Northeastern N.D.

August 3, 2008

By Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald, N.D.

Aug. 3–For the first time since the early 1900s, a pair of sandhill cranes has been documented as successfully breeding in northeastern North Dakota.

The discovery first made news among birding enthusiasts in mid-July, when an observer reported seeing the cranes with a juvenile near Edinburg, N.D.

Grand Forks birding expert Dave Lambeth photographed the parents and young crane Wednesday using a digital camera mounted on a spotting scope, a technique known as digi-scoping.

Lambeth said he wasn’t able to get within a quarter-mile because the birds would crouch down and stay hidden when he tried to creep closer.

Still, the photo leaves no doubt of the cranes’ identity.

The sandhills near Edinburg aren’t the first to breed in North Dakota in recent times, but they are the first for the eastern part of the state.

According to Mike Syzmanski, migratory bird biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, sandhill cranes nested last year in McHenry County in the north-central part of the state. There also were reports in the 1990s of a nesting pair at J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge in north-central North Dakota, Szymanski said.

According to “Stewart’s Breeding Birds of North Dakota,” nesting sandhill cranes probably were gone from the state by about 1915, although they do pass through North Dakota by the thousands during spring and fall migrations.

It’s not entirely surprising to see sandhill cranes again nesting in eastern North Dakota. The birds continue to nest throughout northwestern Minnesota and southern Manitoba, Szymanski said, and the cranes near Edinburg likely are related to birds from either of those two areas.

Szymanski says it’s also possible that sandhill cranes have nested in the state other years without being noticed.

The birds in North Dakota, northwestern Minnesota and Manitoba are part of the midcontinent population of sandhill cranes, which extends from Alaska east to Manitoba and Ontario, Szymanski said.

He said habitat destruction and human disturbance likely combined to cause the birds to quit nesting in North Dakota originally.

“I don’t know what’s going on to bring them back,” he said. “It might be fewer people living in the countryside.”

The sandhill cranes near Edinburg mark the second long-absent breeder to return to eastern North Dakota. Last year, trumpeter swans nested in the eastern part of the state.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to bdokken@gfherald.com.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Grand Forks Herald, N.D.

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