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Wayward crane makes recess ruckus

This juvenile sandhill crane was found by some fifth and sixth grade students at William Kelley Schools in Silver Bay last week. (Photo courtesy of Angela Goutermont)

Students and teachers at William Kelley Schools in Silver Bay made a new feathered friend during recess last week.

When the students went outside to work off a little excess energy, they found a juvenile sandhill crane wandering around the playground — even trying to play with the children and seeking affection.

Angela Goutermont, a regular substitute teacher at WKS, was with the group of fifth- and sixth-grade students on the playground. She said the bird was nuzzling up students, nudging them to pet it.

"It was a super nice little bird and the kids were really interested," Goutermont said. "Maybe to the point where they were a little too interested, but they all really liked it and wanted to pet it and that didn't seem like a good idea."

Goutermont was concerned the children might unintentionally hurt the bird. Eventually, she and the other adult ended up bringing the kids back inside, but someone still wanted to play.

"We shooed the kids in and it followed us to the door and wanted to come in," she said. "Then we felt bad because it sat there and pecked on the door trying to get in. Poor little thing."

A teacher contacted the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which quickly responded because it was the end of the school day, potentially putting the crane in even more danger with many children outside as well as traffic.

Nancy Hansen, the DNR's Lake County area wildlife manager, said after receiving a photo of the bird, she immediately knew it was a very young sandhill crane. The bird's comfortable interaction with humans struck her as odd.

Hansen went to the school and couldn't find anything physically wrong with the bird, but it still needed to be removed from the school grounds before the end of the day.

"We picked it up in the afternoon and, honestly, it was one of the easiest bird rescues I've ever had to do," Hansen said. "I wasn't particularly fond of the idea of dealing with a crane — normally a bird that has a sharp bill like that, and especially one that is rather large — can be a concern, but this bird was so docile."

Hansen put her hand on its bill and her other arm around its body to cradle it. The crane was transported to Wildwoods Wildlife Rehabilitation in Duluth.

Sandhill cranes aren't particularly common in northeastern Minnesota, but there is a large population in the northwest part of the state and another large population in western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota.

"We have no idea where the parents were or why it wasn't with them, but here was this bird and it seemed to be perfectly comfortable with selecting human companions," Hansen said.

Adult sandhill cranes mate for life, Hansen said. They usually hatch two chicks each year, with each parent concentrating on raising one of the babies because there is typically one that is more aggressive during feeding times. The chicks tend to spend most of the first year with their parents and part ways following the spring migration.

The eastern group of sandhill cranes migrate to Florida each winter and the western group travels to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Tara Smith, the volunteer and event coordinator at Wildwoods Wildlife Rehabilitation, said the crane was a little thin, but otherwise seemed perfectly healthy when he arrived. Smith said they kept it for a couple of days for observation. It was then released at Crex Meadows, Wis.

"He was definitely lonely and he would definitely vocalize quite a bit when he was here," Smith said. "As soon as we determined he was healthy, our main objective was to get him released."

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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