Neebing, Ont. -- Sandhill cranes appearing in large numbers just outside Thunder Bay may be a feast for the eyes for bird watchers, but farmers don’t appreciate the big birds feasting and wreaking havoc in their fields. “Some farmers have reported losing up to 30 per cent of their (spring) planted acres to damage,” Bill Groenheide, an Ontario Federation of Agriculture director who farms near Thunder Bay, wrote last month on the organization’s website “A farmer’s only choice, if they want to harvest a crop in the fall, is to replant, which is both costly and without a guarantee that wildlife won’t overtake those plants and seeds, too.” The number of majestic-looking sandhill cranes that have stopped over in farm fields in Neebing, Oliver Paipoonge and the Slate River Valley this fall is believed to be well over 600, wildlife observers say. That’s many more than last year. In September, Lakehead Region Conservation Authority kicked off its second-annual Sandhill Crane Festival, which over a two-week period relies on volunteers to take note of sightings and record them on a link on the conservation authority’s website. “The goal is to try and see the massive flocks of sandhill cranes that are currently migrating through the region,” said a conservation authority bulletin. In addition to their distinctive honk and impressive wingspan, the large birds stand out during flight because, like an ancient pterodactyl, they fly with their necks outstretched. The problem for area farmers, Groenheide says, is that more and more cranes are choosing to remain in the Thunder Bay area rather than migrate south. The birds “are an ongoing source of frustration,” wrote Groenheide, who is a Gillies Township councillor. They “are now increasingly staying put, and as their populations are growing, their impact on agriculture is also on the rise.” It turns out cranes enjoy corn and soybean as much as people. In his federation column, Groenheide argues the province should offer compensation to farmers when their crops have been damaged by wildlife, just as it does when livestock or poultry are killed by wild predators. Deer, raccoons, Canada geese and wild turkeys are also known to cause crop damage, Groenheide noted.
CARL CLUTCHEY, LOCAL JOURNALISM INITIATIVE REPORTER, The Chronicle-Journal