National Geographic : 1915 Aug
WHOOPING CRANE (Grus americana). Range: Mainly restricted to southern Mackenzie and northern Saskatchewan; winters from the Gulf States to central Mexico. If we go back about a century we find this, the largest of our cranes, abundant and nesting over a vast area stretching from the Mackenzie region to Iowa, a strip 1,500 miles long by less than 300 miles wide. Cooke states that eggs of this species were taken in Iowa as late as 1894, and at Yorkton, Saskatchewan, as late as May 16, 1900. In its day and generation the whooping crane, big and con spicuous as it is, was common enough, as is attested by numerous authorities. Thus, Nuttall, speaking of a night on the Mississippi in December, 1811, says, "the whole continent seemed as if giving up its quota of the species to swell the mighty host. The clangor of their numerous legions, passing along, high in air, seemed almost deafening." To-day what a contrast! The clangor of passing multitudes no longer fills the air, for this noble bird, whose number was legion a century ago, is now practically extinct in the Atlantic States, while only a few pairs manage to maintain themselves in far out-of-the-way places, and so to delay for a few years the final extinction of the species. In early colonial times the whooping crane was taxed with pillaging corn fields, and doubtless suffered for its crimes. Moreover, its flesh was reputed to be excel lent, and no doubt this fact contributed to its destruction. One of the regulations under the Federal law fixes a closed season till 1918 for our three species of cranes, whooping crane, sandhill crane, and little brown crane, but, so far as this species is concerned, the regulation probably comes too late. KING RAIL (Rallus elegans). o Range: Breeds from Nebraska, southern Minnesota, Ontario, New York, and Connecticut south to Texas, Florida, and Cuba; winters mainly in the southern part of its breeding range. The king rail, the largest and handsomest of its family, is trim of form, moves with an air of conscious grace, and is tastefully garbed in soft brown and black, which harmonize wonderfully well with the vegetation of swamp and meadow, among which it passes its life. Moreover, it possesses in the highest degree that form of beauty which consists in the perfect adaptation of means to end, for its entire make-up is wonderfully in keeping with its mode of life. Anyone familiar with the appearance of the Virginia rail will recognize the king rail on sight since it is a near counterpart of that bird, except in size. It lives exclusively in fresh water meadows where it hides in the thick cover after the manner of its kind. So adept is it at the game of hide-and-seek that, though you may mark one down to a foot, it is rarely that either man or dog can put it up a second time, though the cover may appear to be insufficient to conceal even a sparrow. When on the wing the bird appears to fly with great effort. As a matter of fact, it can fly well enough for all practical purposes, but it has a pair of stout legs quite capable of taking their owner out of harm's way under ordinary circumstances, and it usually prefers to entrust its safety to these members rather than to its wings. Apparently the rail is nowhere very numerous, but it is difficult to say how far this seeming scarcity of the bird is due to its secretive habits. As it is prolific, laying from seven to twelve eggs, and offering no great temptation either to the sportsman as a mark or to the gunner as a market bird, this handsome rail should long continue a denizen of our fresh-water marshes. SANDHILL CRANE (Grus mexicana). Range: Resident in Louisiana and Florida; bred formerly from southern British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and western Ontario south toCalifornia, Colorado, Nebraska, Illinois,and Ohio; winters from California, Texas, and Louisiana south to Mexico. The big sandhill crane seems most athome on the broad expanse ofthe western prairies and marshes, which offer itfood and security. Itisstill common, how ever, in Louisiana and southeastern Florida, where the prairies and savannas are large enough to suit its tastes.Thus, aspointed out by Cooke, the two breeding areas of this species are separated by adistance of more than 600 miles. As the crane struts majestically about,itkeeps awatchful eye for enemies, and when the danger proves threatening, itspreads its broad wings and with measured beats flies slowly away. Its loud buglelike notes, when heard coming from mid-air, as the birds slowly pass out of sight, have adelightful musical quality. The food of this crane consists of a large variety of animal life, among which are grasshoppers and meadow mice, so that a distinct claim of economic usefulness may bemade for it. Unfortunately for itssafety its meat isby no means unpalatable and in some localities it is much sought after for food. Unquestionably, however, the restriction of its breeding andfeeding grounds by settlement has had more todo with the decrease in its numbers than firearms. Probably the fate of such alarge bird, requiring so much spaceand freedom, can not beaverted, but itcan atleast be postponed, and every manwho carries agun should do his part by refraining from making a target of its bigbody. Of the three species of cranes living inthe United States the brown crane isthe smaller and is confined to the Middle West. CLAPPER RAIL (Rallus crepitans crepitans). Range: Breeds from Connecticut toNorth Carolina; winters mainly south of New Jersey. The distribution of the clapper rail complements that ofthe king rail, for the clapper inhabits the salt-watermarshes asits relative does the fresh-water meadows. Though occasional as far northasMassachusetts, the clapper rail does not begin to be numerous until Long Island isreached. Farther south itinhabits the salt marshes in great numbers. Itused to nest abundantly on Cobb's Island and other sandy islands along theAtlantic coast which are fringed on the landward side by dense beds of rushes. When on Cobb's Island, Ionce offered asmall boy a quarter apiece for some of the young clappers, asIhad never seen them. In about an hour he returned andto my astonishment turned out ofhis cap more than a dozen of the quaint, black, fluffy youngsters, some of which apparently had just chipped the shell. It appeared that an uncommonly high tide had driven the birds from their usual haunts,and the nestlings were tobehad by the dozen by wading through the reeds andpicking them off the piles offloating debris. Ihad the pleasure of returning most ofthem to their native haunts, and the rapidity with which they lost themselves among the reeds showed that they needed no parental lectures on the art ofconcealment. A closely allied species, theCalifornia clapper rail, represents the eastern bird on the Pacific coast of Oregonand California. As the name implies, clapper rails are noisy birds, and their harsh notes are often heard coming from the thick reeds when the callers are invisible.They lay from seven to adozen eggs and are so prolific that with a decent regard for seasons and bag limits, they should hold their own to the end of time.