I came across an interesting little fact this morning, while surfing the interwebs.
But first, a little context.
A couple of years ago, during an evening hike at Kettle Moraine State Forest, as the sun was getting close to the horizon and the wooded areas of the trail were starting to get distinctly dusky, I heard something really, really bizarre coming from above. To my ears, it sounded a lot like a pterodactyl flying overhead, although it obviously could not have been one of those. The source of the racket turned out to be two fairly large birds flying overhead, calling out as they flew.
I later realized that the birds were Sandhill Cranes, which I had seen before, but I had never seen them in flight, nor had I heard their call prior to that evening. What an experience it was, too—almost as if, for a moment, I had been transported back in time to when the dinosaurs still roamed the earth. It’s really a challenge to describe how otherworldly a sound it was, although people who have heard that call themselves can probably understand.
Since then I’ve become more familiar with Sandhill Cranes, having seen them quite often at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, where they are pretty common. They are odd birds, looking distinctly more primitive than many other species, I’ve always thought (with the possible exception of storks).
Well, it turns out that perhaps they really are more primitive, in one sense. This morning I was browsing through the website of the International Crane Foundation, specifically their field guide to the various crane species of the world. On their Sandhill Crane page, they state the following:
A Miocene crane fossil, thought to be about ten million years old, was found in Nebraska and is structurally identical to the modern Sandhill crane, making it the oldest known bird species still surviving!
So Sandhill Cranes have not only been around for at least ten million years, but no other bird species is known to have been extant for that long? That is just cool. Sort of like time travel, almost. :)