Papers in the Biological Sciences



Crane Music

Date of this Version



Published in NEBRASKAland, vol. 79, no. 2 (March 1992), pp. 8-19. Copyright 1992 Nebraska Game & Parks Commission.


Cranes are the stuff of magic, whose voices penetrate the atmosphere of the world's wilderness areas, from arctic tundra to the South African veld, and whose footprints have been left on the wetlands of the world for the past 60 million years or more. They have served as models for human tribal dances in places as remote as the Aegean, Australia, and Siberia. Whistles made from their wing bones have given courage to Crow and Cheyenne warriors of the North American Great Plains, who ritually blew on them as they rode into battle. These birds' wariness, gregariousness, and regularity of migratory movements have stirred the hearts of people as far back as medieval times and probably long before, and their sagacity and complex social behavior have provided the basis for folklore and myths on several continents.

The actual migratory journeys of cranes are no less interesting than they were imagined to be by the peoples of medieval times. In recent years it has been possible to follow these movements very closely, by using radar or radiotelemetric devices or by following migrating flocks in small airplanes.

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