National Geographic : 1973 Dec
and mammals, lizards and frogs. Fattened by autumn grains, thousands fell as game, although their elusiveness was legendary. The young nation's most famous bird-watcher, John James Audubon, said of the crane, "The wariness of this species is so remarkable that it takes all the cunning and care of an Indian hunter to approach it." Finally, hunting, drainage of wetlands, and massive cultivation drove most of the birds from central portions of the United States to the Northwest and Canada. Small enclaves survived in Michigan, the Gulf States, and Cuba. By 1918 sandhill cranes had become so rare that federal law had to quiet hunters' guns. Wariness still leaves much of the bird's life and thus, Fred's behavior-cloaked in mystery. The authors found amusing, but puzzling, their pet's habit of rubbing himself with a towel after a swim (below), much as a bather might vigorously dry himself. "Any rubbing motion on our part would prompt him to do it," said Des. "One day we washed our car, and when we were drying it, Fred snatched a cloth and did the same to himself."