Sunday, January 6, 2013

Big Whoop

I was visiting the zoo right before Christmas, and I didn’t have much time. I was going to get to the flamingos, get some pictures, and get out—and, no, I didn’t have time to watch the troupe of otters galumphing down their dry streambed (well, okay, obviously I watched them, but only for a half a minute at most).

I was almost there, too, having paused only to take a quick shot of a wild hawk high up in a bare tree, when I passed the whooping cranes’ enclosure.

One of the two birds was bowing its head up and down and looking extremely agitated. “This looks intriguing,” I thought, and so I trained my camera on it—just in time to catch (alas imperfectly) a series of amazing jumps!

Now, when I say “jump,” you’re probably thinking of the kind of little hops that most of us are capable of. But these jumps—these jumps were huge! They were dramatic! And, while some of the flapping and beak-opening was perhaps less than elegant, the actual leaping bit was as light and graceful as the drift of a blown blossom.

Because my usual response to what appears to be unusual animal behavior (human or otherwise) is to assume that it’s related to sex, my first guess was that this was some sort of courtship ritual. And yet the jumping bird (male or female, I wasn’t sure) didn’t seem to be all that focused on his/her potential mate: instead, this seemed like a fairly free-form series of leaps.

Intrigued, I looked up “whooping crane courtship behavior” online (the internet does have its benefits) and discovered—courtesy of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service brochure—that, yes, head bobbing and leaping are part of courtship displays, and both male and female birds engage in these activities.

Since courtship begins in winter, it’s probable that the balletic moves I observed were in fact a prelude to hanky-panky. But it’s not certain that this was their purpose. After all, the best part of this pamphlet was a line explaining, “These dances…may occur at other times as whoopers…show excitement.”

So maybe this particular set of leaps was less about getting in the mood and more about having gotten an invitation to the kori bustards’ elite New Year’s do.

["This is the best holiday EVER!"]

{A note: I do write all text and take all pictures. Please do not reproduce either without my permission.}


Anca said...

Excellent photos and commentary. Can you ask the guys if they can get me an invitation for next year? Though if I have to leap, I'll be disqualified.

squirrel said...

Are you sure that wasn't a couple of the Lords a Leaping from Christmas that got the day wrong? Nice photos and narrative.

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