Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

(Grades 7, 8) Crane Biology and Body Language narrated PowerPoints (available on YouTube), costumes, games, and art projects. Perfect for pre-loading learning for a fall field trip to the West Valley ponds to observe hundreds! (Standards MS: LS1.A, LS1.B, LS1.C, LS2.A, LS2.B, LS2.C, LS4.C, PS3.D, ESS2.C, ESS3.C, ESS3.D)

* This kit is reserved in September / October for maximum one-week use by school classes in our 7th-8th grade Sandhill Cranes learning sequence.

In the last decade or two, there has been a growing natural phenomenon in the West Valley Ponds area of Flathead County. The shallow ponds and marshes, located immediately next to sweeping expanses of agricultural grain fields, has been increasingly noticed by Sandhill Cranes on their autumn southerly migrations. It has become a stopover point for generations of Cranes in September and October. 

            The stopover is not on the same scale as Nebraska’s Platte River, where half a million cranes come together as a staging and refueling spot. But the Flathead Sandhill Crane staging area has grown quickly, and now it is possible to see as many as 700 Cranes from one vantage point. When this four-foot-tall bird bugles its booming calls in numbers, especially when gliding into the ponds at dusk, it is a spectacular sight and sound. 

            Flathead County has many pairs of spring and summer nesting Cranes in places like Smith Lake, Batavia Waterfowl Area, and many wet fields and meadows throughout the open areas of the County. But while nesting and raising young, the birds are much more secretive. Not so with the staging area in the fall. It can be raucous at times. One thing is very obvious. No human living in or visiting the Flathead in the autumn should miss it! Like Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake, floating and fishing the various forks of the Flathead River, it has become “a thing you have to do”.

            Hopefully, studying the natural history of Sandhill Cranes with the activities in this Kit will prepare area students for a September / October field trip visit see a very special thing about their own backyard. 

The Activities

All of the activities in this Learning Kit can be used sequentially or stand-alone. The following is a suggested sequence.

1. Sandhill Cranes: Voices from the Eocene: (scripted PowerPoint presentation) This activity may be best done over two class periods. Sixty-nine images with text about each is best done with some time for questions and discussion off-script. (Addresses Next Generation Core Standards MS-LS1-4, 5, 6, 8; MS-LS2-1, 2, 3, 4, 5; and Disciplinary Core Ideas LS1.B, LS1.C, LS2.A, LS2.B, LS2.C, LS3.A; MS-LS4-1)

2. Cry of the Crane: Vocalizations: As introduced by audio in the original PowerPoint, Cranes make a wide variety of sounds — usually very loud sounds. Included in the binder is a two-page description of meanings of some sounds. Also in the trunk is a 6-foot-long “trachea tube” which demonstrates how cranes can reach the volume levels they do. Two-thirds of a crane’s trachea (breathing tube) is coiled inside the chest of the bird. This acts as a megaphone-type amplifier of their calls and songs. There is also a small plastic “crane call” included in the trunk. This call sounds more like a crane when the caller “gargles” or does t-t-t-t-t sounds while blowing on the call (it takes practice!). Some students may be able to mimic a crane sound with their own voice. Either way, it is fun and entertaining for students to do a crane sound normally, and then compare while calling through the coiled tube (hint: it is much louder). 

            Any combination of teacher-demo, student-demo, calling with or without the plastic call, and even a  “Crane-calling contest” can be a good learning experience for students. (For safety, use the antiseptic wipes in the trunk after each use by yourself or a student!) (Standards MS-LS1_4, 8; MS-LS4-4)

3. Cranes in Art: The second binder is a collection of images, greeting cards and photos of the ways Cranes have been depicted in art over centuries. Some are of a certain cultural style, some realistic, and some are abstract. The binder is a resource for ideas prompting students to do their own visual interpretations of Cranes. (Visual Arts Standards Grades 6-8: 1 – 11; Grades 9- 12: 1 – 11)

4. Origami Cranes: This activity combines history (Japanese tradition, Hiroshima bombing) with sculptural paper art through the touching story of Sadako, a young girl who sought to overcome the effects of radiation poisoning in WW2 by making “A Thousand Peace Cranes” with Origami paper. (Media Arts Standards Grades 6-8: 4, 5, 8, 10; Visual Arts Grades 6-8: 2, 6, 7, 10, 11; Social Studies Grade 8 Benchmarks: Standard 4 – d, f; Standard 6 – b)

5. Running the Gauntlet: Sandhill Cranes on Migration: This is an outdoor or all-purpose-room game demonstrating the hazards Cranes face on their migrations. Supplemental maps of crane occurrence through the year, and major stopover and wintering sites, help explain why migration can reduce survival rates to 60%. (Standards MS-LS1_4, 8; MS-LS2-2; MS-LS4-4 and Cross-cutting Concepts “Structure and Function”, “Cause and Effect’ – MS-LS3-2)

6. “Dancing with the Cranes”: (unscripted but captioned PowerPoint, written description of courtship body language, and folding pocket “display dictionary”) Beside the fact that Sandhill Cranes are huge and loud, one of the more spectacular things about them is their complex courtship dances. After seeing the body language of courting and aggression in the PowerPoint and reading about the meanings of some of those postures, students can have a “dancing-with-the-stars” type contest, with small groups of students choosing one posture from the PowerPoint, display dictionary, or written description of the meanings of dance moves. They mimic the Crane dance and say the meaning of that particular dance as they do it. It may be less intimidating to have the entire class stand and copy a behavior at the same time — and then graduate to a silly but kinesthetic learning experience with a “contest” (Standards MS-LS1-4, 8; MS-LS2-2; MS-LS4-2, 4) (Please note that many arts / dance standards are met with this activity as well. As an example, a Crane dancing contest would address all of the eleven content standards for grades 6 – 8.)

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Sandhill Cranes