Winging by – and with – a long neck, the sandhill crane was announced as the 2012 Audubon California Bird of the Year. One of North America’s largest water birds, the crane racked up 43 percent of votes cat during an annual online poll that invited more than 12,000 readers and nature-lovers to choose a feathered friend for the coveted title.
Fourth time was the charm for this magnificent flapper – the crane was a nominee for the past three years in the annual contest. Each year, it did garner more votes, going from 234 votes in 2009 to 5053 in 2012.
The sandhill crane took the title with a late surge after the second-place burrowing owl raced off to an early start. Ultimately, the owl finished with 22.3 percent. Coming in third for the second year in a row was the Western snowy plover with 9.8 percent, while the tricolored blackbird followed with 8.1 percent.
The designation spotlights not only the crane’s beauty but it conservation needs. Unregulated hunting and habitat loss decimated populations – in the 1940s there were fewer than five breeding pairs in the California Central Valley, where they once ruled the roost. In 2000, an estimated 465 pairs have been busy at work reestablishing their numbers.