Last weekend at my home in Bozeman, I was startled to awareness by a distinct clattering that reminded me of summer afternoons on the Snake River. Except much, much louder. Entranced, I listened for a moment, wandered to the backyard, and gazed skyward for the source. Turns out the cacophonous clattering was emanating from a large flock of at least 60 Sandhill Cranes. They wheeled above me in giant circles, calling out in unison while rising higher and higher into the sky. I was mesmerized. Though I’ve often seen Sandhill Cranes along the Snake River, I’ve never seen more than five or six at a time. And here I was, seeing dozens and dozens, right in the middle of town. It was migration time.
Sandhill Cranes have many distinct vocalizations, but the one we most commonly associate with these majestic birds is that trademark squeaky clatter. The Cornell Bird Guide tells us that the tone is derived within the bird’s long trachea, which serves to lower the pitch of the vocalization and creates multi-layered overtones. To hear such an enormous flock calling out together was a truly memorable experience.