For the Birds Radio Program: Valentine's Day Birds
This week on the National Bird Chat, people have been talking about what bird would best represent Valentine’s Day. One woman thought the Wood Stork fit the bill because the feet can be so brilliant red during the courting season. A couple of people suggested the Heart-spotted Woodpecker, which bears a huge black heart-shaped marking on its back. Someone suggested the Western Grebe for the gorgeous water dance courting pairs engage in—people who have seen the opening of the TV program Wild Kingdom have seen this. Lovebird was of course recommended, as was the Rose-breasted Grosbeak for what the person nominating it called the “bleeding heart.” And the Scarlet Ibis was also nominated for its vivid color.
I nominated the Sandhill Crane. I reasoned that many pairs are already growing romantic in February, which should appeal to those for whom Valentine’s Day has become symbolic of romantic love. Cranes mate for life, and their song and dance, with that upper body exuberance, conjure the best of Gene Kelly (to say nothing of the fact that they’re into singin’ and dancin’ in the rain). But also, as I’ve watched huge flocks of cranes feeding and roosting in Nebraska and closer to home, I’ve been struck by how wonderfully well these birds get along with one another as a society. Cranes embody the best of a social species. St. Valentine supposedly wrote hundreds of encouraging and warm letters to people while he was in prison, showing us through his acts how people should treat one another. If cranes were literate, they’d probably write kind missives to one another, too.
But after my nomination, another poster named Wayne C. Weber wrote about a connection between Sandhill Cranes and Valentines that I hadn’t been aware of, in the person of the late Jacob M. Valentine, Jr., a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist who lived from 1917-2000.
Mr. Weber wrote, “Jake Valentine is described on the website of the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge as “champion of the Mississippi Sandhill Crane and father of the National Wildlife Refuge.” His tireless efforts, which even resulted in a temporary halt in the construction of Interstate Highway 10 in Mississippi, led to the creation of a National Wildlife Refuge for this non-migratory, endangered subspecies of Sandhill Crane. Jake spent more than 30 years conducting research on Mississippi Sandhill Cranes, and authored about 25 papers on cranes.
“Valentine’s Day would be an appropriate day, not just to celebrate love and togetherness, but also to honor the memory of a man who dedicated much of his life to crane conservation, and who passed away only 10 days before Valentine’s Day, 2000.”