Welcome to another week of Cranetivities, Alaska edition! See last week’s edition of Cranetivities here.
Activity Description: You may have heard Alaska being referred to as the “Land of the Midnight Sun.” But did you know that it is also home to a large population of Sandhill Cranes? This land of beautiful mountains, coastlines and tundra surprisingly hosts 25,000 cranes migrating along the Pacific Flyway every year! Alaska is also home to many cranes from the mid-continent population that migrate every year from the southwestern U.S. to interior Alaska, Canada, and even Siberia. Travel with us as we explore one of the crane legends of the Tlingit people, experience an Alaskan wildlife expedition and learn why the great state of Alaska is the perfect summer home for Sandhill Cranes!
Grades: 4 to 8
Time estimate: 1 hour
Topics covered: Reading, history and travel
Materials needed: Adobe Flash
Adult Involvement: Minimal
Indoor or Outdoor: Indoor
Cranes are entwined with the cultures of Alaskan native peoples in the form of stories, art and ceremony. Below, read a tale from the Tlingit people of coastal southeastern Alaska about how Raven tricked Crane and Seagull. After the story, consider answering some of the questions provided at the bottom.
How Raven Fooled Seagull and Crane: A Tlingit Tale
From The Quality of Cranes: A Little Book of Crane Lore by Betsy Didrickson
Once, long ago, Raven strolled along the beach looking hungrily at the water that was teeming with tasty fish. He was ravenous and dearly loved to eat fish, but he was no fisherman. He must use his clever mind to figure a way to get some fish. As he was thinking, he spied Crane in the water a short distance away. Crane was easily catching fish for his dinner. He also saw Seagull sitting on a rock with a protruding gullet full of fish. Oh, how lovely it would be to have those fish inside Seagull’s gullet.
He walked over to Crane and said hello, and then walked over to Seagull. After saying hello to Seagull, he walked back to Crane and spoke. “Because I am your friend, I’m going to tell you what Seagull just said about you. He said you are an awkward, ugly big bird with no grace.”
That said, Raven strolled back to Seagull and spoke. “Because I am your friend, I’m going to tell you what Crane just said about you. He called you bad names and said that your grandmother was a witch.” Raven continued going back and forth provoking each bird, while he himself looked like a sympathetic friend. Finally, with coaxing from Raven, Seagull launched an attack on Crane. Crane, thinking he needed to defend himself from the aggressive Seagull, kicked at Seagull’s bulging gullet. Raven had already told Crane this was Seagull’s weakest spot.
To Raven’s delight, all the fish that Seagull had swallowed burst forth. Raven, who had been waiting for just this turn of events, quickly scooped up all the fish and flew away. Seagull and Crane realized immediately that Raven had deceived them and they stopped fighting. To this day, it is said that all the Tlingit people understand what is meant by the saying, “Perhaps Raven is carrying tales to Crane and Seagull.”
How would you describe Raven’s character?
What do you think is the moral of this story?
Can you think of other stories that use animals to explain or teach?
Cranes are also included in Tlingit visual artwork and ceremonial items, like this Shaman’s Crane Rattle. What do you think this rattle was used for?
Next, try out this fun activity by Alaska Kids! This is a quick game where you can search for other animals that call Alaska home, such as moose and grizzly bears. Make a list of all the animals you spot.
Are any of these animals found where you live?
Finally, we would like to spotlight some fantastic Alaska destinations for Sandhill Crane viewing! Our first stop is Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge in Fairbanks, Alaska, where the Tanana Valley Sandhill Crane Festival is held. As of July 2020, the Sandhill Crane Festival is being held August 21 to August 23. This three-day event features educational talks, live music, crafts and guided walks centering around Sandhill Cranes. Check out this video about crane calls from the 2015 festival and another video showcasing the number of cranes that stop at this site.
Alaska also has several pristine river deltas that provide the perfect habitat for Sandhill Cranes and other water birds. Places like the Copper River Delta near Cordova and the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge provide critical nesting habitat for cranes. These spots are deeper in the wilderness than Creamer’s Field. Some do not have roads. Do your research beforehand, and you will be rewarded with a truly wild Sandhill Crane viewing experience!
Though travel isn’t possible for many of us right now, we hope you can plan a trip to see these magnificent birds. Make an itinerary for your future dream Alaskan adventure!
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