Alaska Sandhill Crane 2019


DANCE DISPLAYS



Cranes trumpet their mood through iconic body language. Dancing expresses individual emotional highs, like elation upon return from migration. As male-female pairs dance, their reciprocal postures promote stronger pair bonding.

The dance displays on this webpage encompass the basic repertoire for many Alaska Sandhill Cranes. Individual cranes develop their own styles. Crane dance starts from nature, movements programmed in DNA, and is modified by nurture, parental teaching and life experience. Experienced cranes incorporate diverse steps and postures (including high arousal attack poses like Bows and Jump-rakes) into spontaneous flowing performances like the Tour-jeté and Minuet below.

Dancing plays different roles as cranes mature:

  • For young colts dancing strengthens muscles, improves motor coordination, and facilitates communication skills. From the time of hatch, parents encourage young colts to run, to flap, to jump, and to dance. Dancing promotes family bonding and is an expression of joy.

  • For yearlings and young cranes in "teen-age gangs" on staging areas and in foraging flocks, practice dancing refines postures, steps, sequences, and routines, but even more important, dancers size-up one another by challenging and by flirting.

  • For mated pairs of cranes who dance on winter roosting grounds, migratory staging areas, and summer nesting territories, dancing is a postural conversation that synchronizes emotions. As nesting time approaches in the spring, dancing may well promote hormonal changes that hasten reproductive maturation.

Ground-stab

Display: The crane stabs very quickly at the ground and then stands briefly with wings spread. The next display is often a Wing-spread or a Jump.

Function: Look at me and lets's dance! In a flock of cranes, this display often evokes a responding Jump or Wing-spread-hold.

Ground-stab

Jump-rake

Display: Crane leaps into the air and kicks out toward dance partner. The left bird (female) is in a wing-spread-forwad-tilt.

Function: High arousal dance. When Jump-rake is used as an Attack Display, feet strike the opponent.


Jump-rake

Wing-spread-forward-bow

Display: Body axis tilted forward, neck coiled tightly back, and wings spread with tips curved down. Millie (left) and Roy (right).


Function: Moderate to high arousal display in pair and family dance.


Wing-spread-forward-bow

Object-toss

Display: While dancing, a crane may seize a feather, fling it (left), and then stand and watch it float to the ground.

A grass stem, a cattail or a stick can likewise be tossed.

Function: Solo or pair dance.

Object-toss

Stab-grab-wave

Display: While dancing, crane stabs at the ground, grabs and pulls up a bit of plant material, and jumps at an extreme backward angle while waving the vegetation.

Function: At start of a dance sequence, often after a Ground-stab.

Stab-grad-wave

Arch

Display: Nech arched up and bill pointed vertically. Wings are lifted and spread.

Very rare display; see Ice dancing 2009 for context of this Arch display.

Function: Very high arousal dancing.

Arch

Gape & gape-sweep

Display: Crane spreads wings, partially crouches, holds head forward and down with bill open. Head is swept left and right in Gape-sweep. .

Function: Solo or dancing with partner. Often mixed with Wing-spread-hold or Tuck-bob during a dance.

Gape & Gape-sweep

Curtsey

Display: Crane squats low with neck coiled back, wings held close to body and primary feathers spread. In pair dancing, usually the female. One of the first dance displays of month-old colts.

Function: Response to Jump or Gape of partner.

Curtsey

Tuck-bob

Display:With neck tightly coiled and bill held horizontal, the crane bobs its body up and down. Wings are partly spread and feathers are sleeked.

Function: Dance.This is a dynamic display; a leap often follows.

Nest-building

Bow

Display: Crane lowers its head, points bill sharply down and arches the neck. Wings can be held close or spread.

Function: High arousal dancing, for example after mating.

Bow

Straight-leg highstep

Display: Crane faces forward, body angled slightly up and head high, with wings held wide and cupped. The crane high-steps, like a soldier in a ceremonial march, holding out each leg straight.

Function: Dance.

Straight-leg- highstep

Run-flap

Display: The crane flaps its wings and sprints forward

Function: Dance, perhaps as an expression of joy.

Also used in threat.

Run-flap

Wing-spread-hold

Display: Crane stands or walks with head pointing forward and with wings held out and often fanned briefly.

In the far right picture below, an adult molting primary feathers is dancing with a 3-week-old-colt.

Function: At start of a dance sequence, often after a Ground-stab.

Wing-spread-hold

Jump

Display: Crane jumps straight up, facing partner or solo dance. Wings may be spread wide, cupped, or held back. Neck can be upright or pecking down. Often after Ground-stab.

Function: May reflect high-spiritedness or even play.

Jump

Run-flap-glide

Display: In the midst of pair dancing, female retreats, turns to face her mate, and runs flapping, jumping, and gliding to land facing the male. Elapsed time <1 sec.

Function: Pair dance. This high arousal female display is rare.

Run-flap-glide

Single-wing-spin

Display: Crane extends its outside wing and pulls the inner one against its body, like a spinning figure skater.

Function: Dance. Facilitates rapid spinning.

Single-wing-spin

Tour-jeté (Jump-Turn)

Display: Male crane jumps three times to complete one rotation. Very high arosual display.

Function: Dance: solo, with mate, or with family.     

Tourjete

Minuet

Display: A mated pair with wings extended gracefully rotates. Other displays may be interspersed like Tuck-bob, Jump-rake, and Single-wing-spin during the circling.   

Tourjete

Salute

Display: The male crane salutes, standing at attention for ~2 seconds while the female runs left-to-right in an arc and turns toward him to display.

Function: Pair dance or family dance

Salute


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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Christy Yuncker Happ
1695 Snowhook Trail
Fairbanks, Alaska 99709
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