Sandhill crane chick’s arrival captured by camera

It was not difficult to hear the excitement in Nancy Merrill’s voice as she talked about capturing the arrival of one of the area’s most anticipated babies on the Crane Camera on Tuesday.

“It’s a huge day,” said Merrill, president of the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition. “We are so thrilled because they lost an egg Sunday (May 8) on Mother’s Day, and were devastated. So they’ve been sitting on the other egg patiently, and it hatched this morning at 10:40.”

The cranes, Fred and Wilma, have been taking turns sitting on the egg. Fred was on duty when the new chick hatched. Merrill was watching her screen waiting for Wilma’s arrival as she talked on the phone Tuesday morning.

“It was so interesting because the egg hatched while the father was on the nest,” Merrill said. “The mother is just coming back right now as we’re speaking to see her chick for the first time.”

Merrill said moments like these are why the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition put the camera in place in an undisclosed location west of Steamboat Springs two years ago. She said this year, thanks to donations, the equipment was upgraded and has been far more reliable.

The only glitch came early on, when the group had to move the camera at the last moment, after the cranes that were featured on the camera last year decided to nest in a different location away from the camera’s ideal field of view.

Volunteers quickly moved the camera to a new location earlier this spring. It was a little further away from the nest, but Fred and Wilma were not disturbed when the camera was moved.

“The best thing is the crane message is getting out to the world with everybody who is watching this,” Merrill said. “We’re taping everything, so that we can play it back for everyone who missed it, and we’re pretty excited about it.”

Merrill said the new baby arrived in the expected window about 30 days after the egg was laid on April 15. A second egg was laid a few days later, but it broke.

The group sent out about 2,000 emails last week letting people know that this was a good time to start watching the live feed if they wanted to see the chick’s arrival. She added that some of the crane camera’s highlight videos have been viewed up to 8,000 times. She expects this video of the father standing up and the new chick taking it’s first stroll to get lots of views, as well.

“It just stood up and walked around,” Merrill said. “I mean, it was just so adorable.”

She said crane chicks are precocial meaning that they are able to see right away, and feed almost immediately. They actually can get up and leave the nest within a day. Merrill said that while they could anticipate the hatch, what happens afterwards is much harder to predict. She said some cranes will hang out around the nest for a few days while others leave more quickly. She said the camera will continue to broadcast until the cranes leave the area.

“Often they will come back to the nest at night, but sometimes it won’t,” Merrill said. “Sometimes once they leave the nest we don’t really know how long they’re going to stick around.”

The good news is that the events since the cranes started nesting in mid-April have all been recorded and are available to the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition website. There, viewers can watch the chick hatch, the parents fend off raccoons and skunks, as well as build the nest. The camera also captured American white pelicans and a great blue heron visiting the area where the crane nest is located.

The live video feed is made possible through grants provided by the Yampa Valley Community Foundation and the WHILD fund. Internet access for live streaming is provided by Zirkel Wireless. Camera installation and setup were completed by Photon Syndicate.

“Our organization is all about trying to keep those wetlands and open spaces for the cranes and all the other critters that live there,” Merrill said. “When you see this miracle of hatching it just inspires you to work that much harder for it.”

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