Sandhill Cranes – a Nation of Women with Wings by Sara Wright

Historically they used the Eastern flyway but were extirpated by hunting… a slow recovery is in process and the stately Sandhill cranes are once again returning to breed in Maine… so far only birders have been keeping track of their numbers but these majestic pre-historic birds have haunting cries that are often described as bugles, rattles, croaks and trumpets and can be heard 2 -3 miles away. They also utter sounds that combine a kind of brrring in unison. Their impending arrival next month calls up a chant I love…

There’s a river of birds in migration, a nation of women with wings.
There’s a river of birds in migration, a nation of warriors with wings.”

I remember the chill that crawled up my spine as those words seeped into my body all those years ago… I wept, not knowing why.

I had exactly the same experience when I first heard the brrring cries of Sandhill cranes heading towards the river to roost in New Mexico seven years ago. Entranced, I stood there struck dumb – awed as tears slid down my face.

I re -membered, felt something – but didn‘t know what it was… and whatever it was/is still haunts me when I hear that song or recall the cries of the Sandhills circling round in the sky to orient themselves to the right direction before heading to their northern home to breed.

I am a woman in migration, a woman with wings….

Today when I listen to the cranes on You Tube,  – I‘m impatient thinking about them and need to hear their eerie unearthly calls before they arrive – I am keenly aware that we have lost three billion birds. And even in the fields I visit to watch Sandhills feeding on old grain and corn I also see the signs: POISON STAY OUT. This vulnerable population is ingesting pesticides that are sprayed on the fields – not just here but everywhere. Not one birder I know who visits these fields to watch the cranes ever mentions those signs.

The cranes are also actively hunted in the fall and spring along the Eastern (Tennessee and Kentucky) and Central Flyways ( fourteen more states situated on or near the central highway – the route most heavily traveled). In Maine there is not enough evidence to be certain about just how the Sandhills get here, but my guess is that they use the Eastern Flyway because they remember the route from long ago when they once migrated to Maine in healthy numbers. Some observers in Maine and other New England states believe they are seeing the same flock (s) migrating north and south. These birds, like so many species, were extirpated by hunters… it’s taken a couple of centuries for them to begin a cautious return. That we have Sandhills nesting so close to my home is a source of poignancy and pure joy.

I am a woman who sees…

Women and Birds belong together: we are the hunted ones, dismissed despised, invisible, murdered. Like birds. Who will notice when we are gone?

 I am only too aware of how many women we have lost to violence, rape, and murder – the reality that patriarchy perpetuates. Men must have their guns. Women must remain silent or be silenced … We could rise up as ‘a nation of women’ to stop the carnage but as things stand now women can’t even be civil to one another across the isles. Our resistance to quelling the bird and animal hunting massacre speaks to our tacit acceptance of the superiority of man, the rightness of his love of guns and lust, our acceptance of the worst objectification women have ever been subjected to, and the need to allow the killing machine to continue.

  Just like the birds we are under attack by the NRA.

Is our only viable option flight?

 What I have learned from the various women’s movements is that taking to the streets is not enough, standing up for our beliefs is not enough. Truth telling is not enough. Endurance is not enough. Patriarchy isn’t crumbling – Yet. I’d like to think it might be in its death throes because this destructive system is now turning on itself – like a dragon swallowing its own tail.

 Nature is also intervening to redress hubris and imbalance, graphically demonstrating to humans how stupid we have become as a species. As we poison the fields the Sandhills feed in, we poison ourselves. The elements of wind and water make certain that no  home grown food or field will be spared.

I am a woman in flight.

I dream of joining the cranes, who in their most ancient wisdom  understand that no species survives without genuine community. Not pockets of like-minded folks, but the kind of community that embraces all differences, in deference to the whole.

Our culture praises human endeavors and independence while I look to cranes who reveal and reflect the interdependence that all of us need to survive.

Leave until it’s safe to return?

I‘m learning how to listen….

During the month of March I don my feathery cape, becoming a bird woman who is obsessed by bird migration. Even with masses of snow covering the ground my beloveds are starting to migrate to their summer homes and breeding grounds. Each morning I consult Cornell’s bird cast to find out which birds flew over my county last night. At First Light, Long before dawn I am outdoors standing in the snow recording a new migrant call, a cardinal song, a courting male dove, turkey twittering, gobbling, chickadee convocations – embracing a chorus of avian concertos. I watch the pair of ravens fly through a deep blue crack between twilight and dawn, silent, perhaps praying for all. Messengers in flight. I scatter the first round of seed. Once inside I place some on my windowsill so that the chickadees and I are parted by less than two feet….

I cannot live without them.

Still listening…

I’m a warrior woman in flight,

attached to Roots

sprouting hyphae


A few bits of information regarding Sandhill cranes:

Most Sandhills use the Central Flyway but some fly over Mississippi. There are four flyways in all. During migration the cranes typically fly 200 to 300 miles a day attaining speeds of 25 – 35 miles an hour. During migration family groups travel together. At night they feed and roost communally. Sometimes cranes gather in the thousands but most groups are smaller. Sandhill cranes mate for life and except for nesting spend their years in close relationship with relatives and friends. Always watching out for each other. They breed and nest in bogs, marshes, damp meadows and open wetlands. Although some migrants will breed in the US many continue to Canada and even beyond, entering Siberia. Sandhill cranes are one of the most ancient birds on earth. In Nebraska one fossil was found to be ten million years old.

There’s a river of birds in migration, a nation of women with wings.
There’s a river of birds in migration, a nation of warriors with wings.”

Author: Sara Wright

I am a writer and naturalist who lives in a little log cabin by a brook with my two dogs and a ring necked dove named Lily B. I write a naturalist column for a local paper and also publish essays, poems and prose in a number of other publications.

10 thoughts on “Sandhill Cranes – a Nation of Women with Wings by Sara Wright”

  1. To give credit where due: The chant “A River of Birds in Migration” is from Libana’s CD “A Circle is Cast.” It is a wonderfully haunting chant — I can imagine how it would resonate with the awesome sight of the cranes’ migration.


  2. Wow, Sara, the power of your writing in this post is awe inspiring. I feel the integration of your being with the wide world, the cosmos, earth and all its creatures. It’s deep truths and I hear you, grateful.


  3. Sara, I hope you are saving all of your posts for a later book. Your writing and connecting of nature and women is nothing short of incredible.


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