Sandhill cranes are just beginning to arrive in the Homer area. But if this season is anything like the past few years, more cranes will be nesting in town. Nina Faust is the co-founder of Kachemak Crane Watch, which is dedicated to the conservation of sandhill cranes. The organization relies on residents and visitors to report crane sightings.
“We've had a lot more calls about cranes in small groups and that larger group of 24 hanging around in town,” she said. “We've had an increase in the number of calls about those over the last couple of years.”
Faust said due to the project relying on community members to report sightings, it’s hard to pinpoint just how many more birds are showing up.
She estimates that crane numbers from Anchor Point South to the head of Kachemak Bay have remained steady. Faust adds that about 200-250 cranes nest near Homer each season. However, as more people feed the birds in town, she said more cranes flock to the area.
“I mean there's a lot of transiting of cranes from up above on the bluff coming down to the slough and they have pretty sharp eyesight,” she said. “If they see cranes feeding in an area in town, they're going to pop in to see what's going on so it ends up attracting more cranes.”
Faust said more cranes in town is a cause for concern.
“With the dense concentration of houses and people using herbicides and pesticides on their lawns, sometimes having loose dogs, having children running around, if cranes are in an area like that sometimes they can get protective, especially of their young colts, which are what the chicks are called, and they might attack children or they might get attacked by dogs,” she said.
Faust said one of the biggest mortality factors for cranes is power lines.
In an effort to protect the birds, Faust recommends practicing proper viewing etiquette. Always give cranes the right of way, keep your distance and keep your dog on a leash. That will go a long way to ensuring both residents and visitors can keep on enjoying the birds.
“Cranes are really important to Homer’s economy,” she said. “I can attest to that just by seeing how much interest there is from people who want to know about cranes and who come here to see the cranes on the boardwalk. We actually have a very special situation with the cranes that hang out in the Beluga Slough because people can walk that boardwalk and actually observe a crane family raising their young right close up.”
Kachemak Crane Watch will continue to monitor the birds all summer.