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Monday, April 4, 2011

Crane or Heron?

You might (or might not...) be wondering how I could be so sure that those large bird tracks from Saturday were a sandhill crane, and not our other large, long-legged bird, the great blue heron. The herons return north in February and nest really early, so they are both here at this time of year.

On the left are the tracks from Saturday, and on the right a heron's tracks from a few years ago.
sandhill crane tracksgreat blue heron tracks

So what is the difference? Can you see?

sandhill crane tracksgreat blue heron tracks

First of all, the crane's back toe hardly registers. I've recently learned that "real" birders call this toe number 1. The great blue heron's back toe is long, making the entire print about 6 inches long.

Second, and easy to spot once you actually look for it, the heron's toes 1 and 3 are not in a straight line, but are slightly offset. I've added a yellow line to show this more obviously.

Third, and this may not show quite as well in these pictures, the cranes toes 2,3,4 are perfectly symmetrical. The heron's toes 2,3,4 are not, and you can see an angled wedge between toes 2 and 3. The counting goes: back inner, front inner, front next, next (which may be 3rd front, or outer back, depending on the arrangement)

I've learned a lot here, and I think I'll be paying more attention to bird tracks now! Thanks for sharing my obsession for a moment.

See Dry and Scenic
See Bird Game Answer


jeanlivingsimple said...

Interesting info about the difference in the tracks. Funny...the country folks here call Herons...Cranes.

Never done a puzzle online before. It was fun but it took me a while.:)
You are giving away some great prizes!

Rick (Ratty) said...

I've learned a lot here too. I don't have very many field guides, so I take my education wherever I can get it. You are an excellent source. I'll remember this about the birds. I've seen both, so now it's time to look for tracks.

Ferd said...

Gail and I enjoy our birding, and we've learned a thing or two over the years. But I have to admit, we haven't spent a moment looking at bird tracks! Very interesting!

Secondary Roads said...

Thanks for the lesson. Both species are common around here.

vanilla said...

I've seen some bird tracks, too. Some are large, some are small;
some barely leave a mark at all. ;)

Ann said...

I doubt that I would have noticed the difference if you hadn't pointed it out. They are very similar

Lin said...

Very cool, as usual, Sharky! We have noticed the herons numbers are increasing in our area. I love to watch them fly over our house--I always yell "Pterodactyl!" :) They are soooo huge!

I loved doing your puzzle today. It took me FOREVER!

Campbell Jane said...

Happy Birthday Month! :) I'm terrible at puzzles! Love your bird post interesting!

Sharkbytes said...

Jean- glad you like the prizes! Common names get people in "trouble" a lot, but they are colorful.

Ratty- Some birds walk around enough that it makes sense to know their tracks.

Ferd- I probably do this because I'm not such a great birder!

Chuck- I love it that everyone is seeing more cranes than we used to.

vanilla- You know your bird tracks!

Ann- well, I hadn't paid enough attention myself, previously. But now I really KNOW what I'm seeing.

Lin- These big birds are amazing. I don't know how they get those bodies off the ground. Glad you liked the puzzle- hope you are going to write a story.

Jane- Thanks for commenting! At least you enjoyed the birds.