21 February 2012

Sandhill Crane Survives for 98 Years?

A historic newspaper article provides a truly distinctive account about the longevity of a Sandhill Crane, as ascertained from indicators unmistakably associated with the bird. The provides the essential details for a distinct bit of lore for this species, with the details presented by an editor for a newspaper, where accuracy was an obvious focus.

The following is the entirety of the published article:

"Thomas Chaplin, of Virginia City, Nevada, passed through this city last Friday, with a team and light wagon, on his way home from a visit to friends in Sonoma county. When crossing Butte Creek, ten miles west of this place, he shot and killed a sandhill crane. The bird acted as if lost, and being alone, attracted Mr. Chaplin's attention with the above result. After the bird was killed Mr. Chaplin decided to save the feathers. While thus engaged he saw that the bird was blind, a thick white film covering the pupils of both eyes, and on the neck he discovered a crease encircling it, which looked as if at some time or other the head had been almost cut off with a knife. Upon close investigation, however, the gentleman found that this crease was caused by a wire around the neck and sunk deep into the flesh -- so much so that it could not be seen until the flesh had been cut away. Suspended from the wire, which passed through a little hole near the rim of the coin, was what had evidently at one time been a silver quarter-dollar. Both sides of the piece were smooth and bore the following inscriptions: 'Captured at Fort Du Quesne, May 25, 1783.' 'Released at Fort Dearborn, November 17, 1846.' The coin was of a dull bright color, but having been protected by the soft down, bore no evidence of having experienced rough weather. Cranes are out of their latitude in this climate at this season of the year, and it is highly probable the bird was unable by reason of the infirmities of old age to travel any longer. It is more than likely the coin was an English piece, as this Government had not issued metal money at that early date."

Particular geographic considerations are:

  • Fort Du Quesne was on the right side of the Monongahela River, in Pennsylvania, and in the fork between that river and the Ohio River.
  • Fort Dearborn was at Chicago, in Illinois.
  • Gridley is in Butte County, California.

The event was profoundly significant, because of the reported age of the crane, along with its extent of occurrence. The captive bird was seemingly taken from Pennsylvania to Illinois, and subsequently made its own way among the migratory cranes, going from the east to the west coast.

Did this crane survive for at least 98 years. Its hidden "necklace" would indicate this unsurpassed extent of survival, if authentic. The basic, factual presentation in the newspaper lends nothing towards any fabrication of details. There was apparently no need why something seemingly trivial at the time, should be "enhanced" with false information.

This account is significant for its completely unique account of an old Sandhill Crane, with evidence which would indicate the multiple decades survival of one Sandhill Crane. There is no other information which could be found that would match the life-term details given in the newspaper article of 1881.

Sandhills cranes are known for their longevity, according to specifics available from an online search of the topic. Wild birds thirty years old have been reported. A captive bird at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. survived for 61 years.

This particular bird may have been the longest living Sandhill Crane now ever-known in North America.

Article citation: An Old Bird. June 20, 1881. Sacramento Daily Record Union 13(102): 5. From the Gridley Herald.