Alaska Sandhill Crane 2019

  • Grass as paint brush
    Cranes use tools! Grass serves as a paint brush.

    Pax and her parents pull up muddy grasses and wipe brown stain on their feathers.

  • Grass as paint brush
    Pi gulps hard trying to swallow a frog.

    An adult wood frog almost gets stuck in the throat of a 7-week old crane colt.

  • Gray vs Red Pair
    Millie and Roy did not  return for their 22nd year.

    In 2017, competing pairs of cranes jousted over the newly vacated nest territory.

Welcome to

Sandhill cranes who migrate each spring to our cranberry bog near Fairbanks, Alaska inspired us to create this website. We feature "Millie and Roy" who fledged eight colts between 1995 to 2016.

Millie and Roy were wild sandhill cranes whom we knew for 21 years. Our relationship remained respectful (100-1500 feet of separation) as we studied each other.

Millie and Roy kept track of our habits. They took little notice of every-day barking at sleddog dinner-time yet cued off alarm yelps when a predator was in the neighborhood. They ignored the noisy truck that brought weekly water deliveries but the fuel-oil truck that came once a summer triggered caution. They were accustomed to my opening the deck door to poke the long lens through the screen curtain...except during mating.

Likewise we came to know their patterns: excited dancing on the icy pond after arrival each spring, nesting, coaching each year's colts to forage, to dance, to fly, and to dodge dangers, and leading family excursions to neighboring ponds when fall departure neared.

My notes and images provide a continuous record of successive nesting seasons of this pair of cranes. We believe that this 22 year chronicle, based on over 15,000 hours of close observation, can be viewed as a longitudinal study of nesting and nuturing. It is told from a personal point of view, yet the camera keeps it true.

In the summer seasons since Millie and Roy, several other crane families have vied for the territory. Because we knew Millie and Roy so very well, we can now see stiking and consistent differences in demeanor among the individual birds who have followed after them. The unique personalities of the birds suggest impressive capabilities of their minds.

Visitors to this website may have insights from their own perspectives. Please email your comments and especially send reports of other cranes raising their colts.

Christy Yuncker Happ

We appreciate your patience while the Alaska Sandhill Crane website is under reconstruction.

Latest News

Turtleneck & Pip - 2 eggs in 2019

Nest exchange video. Two eggs but abandoned the nest after two weeks.

Millie & Roy return from migration in 2015

For many years, Millie & Roy have celebrated their arrival with unison calls and dance. After strolling the territory, they fly to a pond across the valley. In the afternoon, they return to inspect, to forage, to snooze, and to mate.

Millie & Roy snatch dragonflies in mid-flight

Millie and Roy track flying dragonflies, lunging at many and plucking some from the air for Pi-13's lunch. In his second month, Pi is highly attentive to dragonflies but snatching is beyond his skill-level.

Roy & Millie coach Pi-13 as she learns to fly

Flight school begins with ground training: repetitive drills that seem endless include wing-waving, run-flapping, and leaping to catch air. Roy & Millie prompt, encourage, and reward the efforts of their colt. After he fledged, Pi learned critical social cues.

Expelling a fox to protect the colt in 2015

When resident ducks raised a noisy alarm, Millie & Roy rushed in attack mode to Bog Central. They ran behind trees and reappeared with wings drooped as they pursued a red fox across Bog Central and into the underbrush. They stalked the fox through the alders and after another confrontation, chased it from the vicinity.

Run, flap your wings, try to catch air, and do it again.

The secret is practice, practice, practice over 7-8 weeks before a young crane colt can fly. By 5 weeks, Arrow-15 and Pi-13 run 15 yards, and flapping their wings, jumping, and trying to lift off. Roy and Millie are coaches - motivating the colt with food, with purrs, and with family dances.

First colt lessons: Fitness & Foraging

Arrow -15 hops, trundles, bumbles, and stumbles after Millie and Roy, w even swimming across small channels in the marsh. Arrow is introduced to tasty morsels of seeds, berries, roots, insect larvae and flying insects, and even strips of vole flesh after Roy has skillfully butchered a vole that he hunted. Hard foods must be macerated, and this takes a gizzard with gravel.

About us

We live on 40 acres of permafrost near Fairbanks, Alaska.

For 24 years, Christy Yuncker Happ has recorded the passing of the seasons in her written journals, still images, and videos.

George Happ is responsible for this website and the Alaska Sandhill Crane Blog.

Sandhill Crane Display Dictionary

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Contact us

Christy Yuncker Happ
1695 Snowhook Trail
Fairbanks, Alaska 99709
P: (907) 388-1554
Email address

  We welcome your emails
  and your crane stories.

Copyright 2019 © Christy Yuncker Happ. All rights reserved.

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