Millie, Roy and the colts - 1996-2015

Over 17 nesting seasons, Milie and Roy hatched 14 colts. Seven migrated south with their parents. Arrow is thriving in 2015.

  • All years
  • 1996-2003
  • Peter Pan/Woodstock-04
  • 2005
  • Barbaro-06
  • 2007
  • Oblio-08
  • Jacques/Phyl-09
  • Lucky/Chance-10
  • Hastings-11
  • 2012
  • Pi-13
  • 2014
  • Arrow-15

Why only 1 colt survives...

Wildlife surveys reveal that twin crane colts are common early in the summer seaon. Yet in the majority of cases, only one colt survives to migrate. Many biologists have hypothesized that the larger crane chick must have killed its twin.

"Siblcide" is common in eagles and other raptors. The survey statistics for cranes seem consistent with a similar mechanism in cranes. However, we can find no direct observations of "colt death by dominant sibling" in the wild. In nature, does the larger colt usually kill the smaller? Like James Layne*, we are skeptical.

Stressed captive colts do kill. In the hurly-bury of captive hatchery flocks of crane chicks, colts attack one another with gusto. But crowds of crane chicks are not natural. While watching our crane family summer-long, year after year, we have seen only benign interactions between colts until one weakened and died.

Many factors could explain colt loss in nature: predation, infection, genetic defects, nutritional deficiencies, or other stressors.

There is a need for more chronicles of the behaviors associated with crane colt death in nature. If you have watched as one sibling died and the other survived, please email us your information. We will distribute your data on this website.

Christy Yuncker and George Happ

* Layne JN (1982). Status of sibling aggression in Florida Samdhill Cranes. Field Ornithol. 53:272-274.


  • In the summers from 1996 through 1998, two cranes were feeding around the pond and defended the nest territory from other intruding cranes.
  • In 1999 and 2000, cranes were present for a week or more but we saw no nest.
  • In 2001, the cranes made a nest but were chased off by a fox on June 10, just when eggs are expected to hatch. While the pair remained at the pond for most of the summer, they were dive-bombed mercilessly by several pairs of nesting mew gulls and wandering Bonaparte's gulls.
  • In 2002, there was another face-off between crane and fox in mid-May. Nest defense apparently was successful that year, since we spotted a small crane colt in mid-June. The gulls harassed the crane family wherever they wandered about the pond. At the end of June, the colt was gone.
  • In 2003, a colt survived long enough to develop wing feathers and a bustle, and to flap its wings as it ran about, but after mid-August, it was not seen.

Peter Pan-04

In 2004, we began to photograph the cranes and to record daily observations. Our photographs show that the same pair (Millie and Roy) have occupied the pond every summer since 2004.

6.7 million acres of forest burned in Alaska and for much of the summer, the sky was dark with smoke. Millie and Roy produced twin colts.

Woodstock-04 became sickly in early September and lay down frequently, with his head under his wing. In the photograph taken the day before Woodstock died, Peter Pan-04 is lying down close to Woodstock and peering at him.

Peter Pan flew off on migration with its parents a few days later.


It was an excessively wet spring and the water-level in the pond rose two weeks after nesting had started.

In the heavy rain, Millie and Roy each took turns adding grasses to the nest and trying, with a beak, to roll the eggs to the highest spot within the nest, but the eggs did not survive.


Twin colts appeared on June 18. One of the twins disappeared two weeks later, but the remaining colt, whom we named Barbaro-06 was a delight to watch for the entire summer and flew off with Millie and Roy in early September.

Barbaro's growth is chronicled in a photo gallery.

His dance training, preflight training, and first lift-off are shown in other galleries.


The nest was flooded and no colts hatched. The cranes reamained at the pond for the rest of the summer.




In 2008, heavy snows came in April and the arrival of all birds was delayed. Roy and Millie dropped out of the sky on the morning of May 3 (5 days late). Upon landing, Roy settled down into the grass, spread his wings, and started to pick up nest materials. After desultory attempts at nest building over the next 10 days, Roy was spotted sitting on a nest on May 13. On June 14, we spied a new colt whom we named Oblio-08.

Oblio was somehow injured in July and was not able to run well for a month. Her flight training could not start until she could run, but eventually she recovered enough. Roy and Millie delayed their departure for migration until she could fly. Their compensation is describer in our Blog.

Three Photo Galleries to the right show Oblio in June, July-August, and finally in September, when she was able to fly, albeit with the injured leg hanging down a bit.


Roy and Millie returned on April 29, 2009. Two colts, Jacques and Phyl, hatched on June 10/11 (see Blogpost of June 11, 2009).

Phyl died on the night of July 1 and suprising behavior followed, reflecting the emotional impact after the death of the colt. See Blogpost of July 10, 2009 and the gallery "Wake and Visitation".

Jacques left for migration with his parents in September.


On April 22 - Millie and Roy returned to the pond and danced on the ice on Earth Day. For the next two weeks, they danced, mated repeatedly, and explored the neighborhood. Several times each day, Roy streted nestbuilding at various sites across the cranberry bog. The image to the right shows the pair examining a nest site and starting to build their final nest during a snowstorm).

Millie began to incubate on May 4. The twin colts hatched 31 days later, Lucky on June 4 and Chance on June 5. For the next two weeks, the colts and family foraged, including two half-day walkabouts

On the morning of June 19, Lucky, the larger twin, was the only surviving colt. In July, she continued to gain independence in foraging, danced with her parents, and began pre-flight training.

Lucky's first flight was on August 6, earlier than for most other colts. In the week thereafter, she flew on day-trips and overnight excursions with her parents.

The family departed for migration on August 30, 2010.

2011 events

  • April 26 - Millie and Roy return.
  • Late April - Dancing, feeding, mating, and exploring.
    Roy repeatedly tests nestbuilding at sites across the cranberry bog.
  • May 6 - First egg laid and incubation begins.
  • May 16 - As shown in the video below, Roy expels red fox from nest territory with Droop-wing Threat display.
  • June 2/3 - A lot of activity, especially piling of grass, near the nest.
  • June 8 - A single colt seen. It was named "Hastings", after an ongoing forest fire.
  • June 9-11 - Roy, Millie, and Hastings walked 3/8 mile to a nearby pond, spent two nights, and then returned.
  • July 5 - Hastings uses a Droop-wing Threat toward a squirrel.
  • July 8 - One-month-old Hastings dances for the 4th time with Roy and Millie. Hastings is a bit timid, probably because during the 2nd dance (several days earlier) Roy bumped the colt and Hastings fell down (see video below).
  • August 9 - Hastings fledged, and for the rest of the month of August, he flew with Millie and Roy on excursions (lasting an hour or more or overnight) around Goldstream valley. Hastings was a very precocious colt. He danced often with his parents and foraged independently, in addition to being fed by Roy and Millie.
  • September 1 - In the early afternoon, the crane family took off and flew toward the ridge that borders Goldstream Valley on the south. Christy watched them spiral up, counting some 30 rotations until they turned south and disappeared over the ridge. We concluded that they had left on migration. However at 5:10 pm, the family reappeared, foraging in Bog Central. We expect imminent departure.
  • September 3 - The family departed on migration.

2012 Nesting but no hatch

  • May 1 - Millie and Roy return.
  • May 2-7- Dancing, feeding, mating, and exploring.
    For the first few nights, Roy and Millie roost in the valley but after May 6, they roost on the nest territory. Roy repeatedly tests nestbuilding at sites across the cranberry bog.
    Several intruder cranes have been expelled, including a lone crane that could be Hastings, last year's colt.
  • May 8 - First egg laid in the evening and incubation begins at nest site very near that of the last few years.
  • May 9 - Lone intruder (Hastings?) appeared in bog central. Millie came off the nest and Roy chased the intruder into the valley.   After 11 minues off the egg, Millie returned to incubation duty.
  • May 18 - Incubation continues without serious incident, except for a fox that Roy shepherded from the nest territory. 
    An intruder crane has been seen several times at the nest territory and also at the Upper Pond [see map at bottom of Goldstream Local Ecology page]. Roy and Millie chase the intruder from the Upper Pond as well as from the nest site pond. Apparently they defend an extended territory.
  • June 18 - We're sorry to report that the eggs did not hatch. We had heavy rains toward the time of expected hatch, and Roy and Millie spent a lot of time piling grasses and digging for vegetation under the water to find materials to build up the nest.


  • Hatch was expected at 30-31 days (June 8). Roy and Millie stopped incubating on June 10 but continued to stay close to the nest and to pile vegetation through June 13.
  • On June 14 and 15, they foraged around the bog and returned often to the vicinity of the nest (a mound of vegetation) which seem to be catching the attention of ravens.
  • The pile of vegetation that Roy and Millie dredged up from the mucky bottom of the pond was almost a foot high, as shown in the photo below, taken in the winter after Roy and Millie had departed on migration.

  • June 20 - In the following week, Roy and Millie foraged about the bog, calling frequently to other cranes in the valley and dancing with gusto.
  • June 27 - Much to our surprise, both cranes molted, losing most of their primary feathers. They were flightless for several weeks. We know of no other report of flightless Sandhill Cranes in the scientific literature.

  • roy flightless

2013 - The hatch and life of Pi

  • Fifteen Photo Galleries document Pi's escapades and education.

    Spring 2013 was cold and snowy in Interior Alaska. Millie and Roy returned to their nest territory two weeks late on May 8th and started incubation on May
    17th.  A single colt whom we named " Pi " , hatched on June 16th (Father's Day). The second egg did not hatch.

    At first, Pi seemed reluctant to wander far from the nest. Roy defended Pi from ducks but Millie did most of the colt feeding. On Pi's first night, Roy went back to incubate the unhatched egg while Millie slept nearby, brooding Pi under her wings.

    On June18th, Pi followed his foraging parents to bog central (see map) as both parents fed him with enthusiasm. The photos above begin with Roy feeding mosquitoes and progress to the family foraging with Pi.

    A selection of 2013 photographs can be found on Facebook.

2014 - A nesting attempt

  • Millie and Roy returned on May 4th and began incubation on May 12th, but the eggs did not hatch. They foraged and danced often during the summer (see video below) and then departed on migration on August 29th.

2015 - Millie and Roy are back, probably at least 19 years old

  • 26 April (Sunday) Steve DuBois reported a very large mass of cranes passing westward through Delta, Alaska, east of Fairbanks.
  • 27 April (Monday) At 6:15 am, crane unison calls woke us from a sound slumber. We found Roy and Millie standing in "Bog Central", calling with high excitement. They cautiously explored the nest territory.
  • At 6:43 am they flew across the valley to their alternate site, returning in the afternoon to inspect, to dance, to snooze standing in meltwater pools, to mate, and then across the valley for the night.
  • Other crane pairs also returned on Monday, one to a habitual nest territory near Chena Pump Road in Fairbanks and another pair north of Fairbanks.
  • 28 April (Tuesday) The cranes returned in mid-morning to forage and inspect. Roy did "starter nests" as they walked across the marsh.
  • Back at 7 pm to dance, preen, explore, and sleep and then flew calling across the valley at 11:30 pm. Other cranes in the valley answered their calls.
  • They started incubation on May 4.
  • A colt (Arrow) hatched on June 6. Click on Nestwatch 2015 for videos of Arrow's first summer.

Photo Galleries
Latest Galleries
   • 2015.6 - Run, Flap & Catch Air
   • 2016.1- Millie & Roy - 21st year
   • 2016.2 - Hatch failed
   • 1 - Cranes return - 21st year
   • 2 - Hatch failed
   • 1 - Arrival
   • 2 - First week
   • 3 - Incubation
   • 4 - Roy's ice dancing
   • 5 - Pi hatches
   • 6 - Pi dances
   • 7 - Dodging Danger
   • 8 - Dragonflies
   • 9 - Fitness for flight
   • 10 - Swim with Dad
   • 11 - Dance and fly
   • 12 - August flight school
   • 13 - Foraging and intruders
   • 14 - Pi explores his world
   • 15- -Time to migrate
Crane biology
Hawks, owls, and eagles
Other birds
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   • Ducks, geese, grebes
   • Shorebirds
   • Perching birds
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   • Caribou and reindeer
   • Carnivores
   • Muskoxen and sheep
Related links

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