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S A N D H I L L  C R A N E
Grus canadensis

Illustration by Judy Goodman

Spring Dancers

By Karen Antell, PhD


As days begin to warm and skies grow sunnier, what could be more exhilarating than dancing through the air on feathered wings, in a buoyant display of sexual interest and physical prowess?  Not all courting birds initiate or solidify their unions through courtship ballets, but those who do provide a memorable experience for all watchers!

Northern Harriers perform some of the most exuberant of aerial displays.  Males carve huge U-shaped arcs high above open grasslands and marshes, like swooping snowboarders in a boundless halfpipe.  These maneuvers might impress prospective mates, but, if performed well enough, they also send a clear message to potential competitors to keep out of occupied territory.  In other words, go big, or go home.  If he goes bigger than average, a vigorous male might attract more than one interested female.  Polygamy obligates him to provide for all of his mates, however, so, the bigger the dance, perhaps the harder his work ahead until all chicks are safely fledged.

Owls might seem unlikely aerial artists, but Short-eared Owls dance lightly through spring skies.  Unlike harriers, these owls practice seasonal monogamy.   A male performs for only one potential mate, but he must perform well enough to convince her that he has the moxie to defend a nest from predators and to provide food for a large brood.  He calls and claps his wings together, in a display designed to draw danger away from a nest hidden among the bunchgrass.  If suitably impressed, the female joins him in the air, where they lock talons and tumble out of the sky toward the ground together.  As a bonded pair, they risk injury in order to prove their commitment to the hard, shared task that lies ahead.

Sandhill Cranes might be the most infamous of our northeast Oregon dancers.  Paired for life, these birds have many years to practice their courtship rituals together.  Both partners join in duet. With wings stretched high above athletically long legs, they face each other, high jumping into the air, confirming their devotion with head bowing and calling in unison.  Each pair dances to it’s own rhythm, in recognition of another arduous season of nesting, brooding, rearing and fledging to come.  

Is it no wonder that we dance together with our chosen partners to celebrate our affection and jubilation of pairing?  Did we learn this from the birds?  Perhaps the genes for this exuberance lie not-quite-dormant in our ancient reptilian brains, reawakening each spring, when the air warms and the sky brightens.

Professor Karen Antell, with a PhD in Plant Systematics from Washington State University, has taught botany and biological sciences at Eastern Oregon University since 1987. Her professional interests include conservation and restoration biology, especially with riparian and wetland systems. She likes field trips, flowers, and bugs (especially moths).

Ralph's Links

By Ralph Anderson


Old growth... grasslands? 
In the rush to reforest, are the world’s old-growth grasslands losing out?


Perhaps... there is Wisdom in the sentience of Old Forests...  
How Trees Talk To Each Other


Insight... on the "Columbian and Wooly Mammoth squabbles" 
Researchers sequence complete genomes of extinct and living elephants

Ralph Anderson, having retired from a career with the U.S. Forest Service and as a consulting Wildlife Biologist, continues to offer his perspectives, insights and perusal of the current flow of science discoveries and its implications via postings on the Wallowa'ology facebook page. The range of links he posts runs from hard science of physics, mathematics, geo-spatial, archaeological and natural sciences to applications in education, fun and play.  He tries to dodge the politics of most issues though they are implicit in many of the articles. A common denominator he seeks in his postings is information, a widening perspective, appreciation for all that is around us and fun.

M A R C H   E V E N T S


The Zumwalt: Conservation of a Working Prairie

This presentation will share Jeff’s experience as a conservation manager over the past 9 years on the Zumwalt Prairie.  He will highlight in pictures some of the fantastic bio-diversity of this last, best remnant of Pacific Northwest Bunchgrass Prairie, and talk about the challenges facing land managers seeking to balance livelihoods and conservation.

🗓  Thursday, March 15th, 7PM
📍  Wallowology, 508 N. Main St, Joseph

Jeff Fields, Zumwalt Project Manager, The Nature Conservancy
As Zumwalt Project Manager for The Nature Conservancy, Jeff brings his experience in forest, river, and grassland management over the past 30 years to his current work focused on the 275,000 acres of privately owned grasslands of Wallowa county. This includes the Conservancy’s Zumwalt Prairie and Clear Lake Ridge Preserves.


Upcoming Events

My Lopsided Relationship with Northern Goshawks in the Great Basin 
Presented By Robert Miller

🗓  April 19th, 7PM
📍 Wallowology, 508 N. Main St, Joseph

Behavior and Ecology of Flying Squirrels in the Pacific Northwest
Presented By Todd Wilson

🗓  May 10th, 7PM
📍 Wallowology, 508 N. Main St, Joseph
Copyright © 2018 Wallowology, All rights reserved.

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