In this excerpt from her book, Conversations with Birds at Orion Magazine, Priyanka Kumar delights in the birds and animals of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, and cranes in particular.
Sandhill cranes are monogamous birds; during courtship, the male valiantly tosses vegetation or mud into the air and fans its wings above the body, before dancing with abandon and letting out a unison call. Then the pair throw their heads back—the male at a deeper angle—and the female lets out two calls for each call the male emits. Lifelong pairs rely on this short, sharp unison call for relationship maintenance—it’s a pair’s shorthand to stay connected, or to alert a mate to a threat in their breeding area. Dancing, too, is used not only in courtship rituals, which are said to be infrequent in lifelong pairs, but also as a communal activity. These cranes have at least ten different types of dances and as many calls; their dances are so lively, with leaps, bows, and head pumps that I wonder whether this is why a group of cranes is also referred to as a dance or swoop of cranes.