When spring returns to Montana, so does the elegant and graceful sandhill crane. Flying in from their Texas/New Mexico winter feeding grounds, flocks of cranes announce their vernal arrival with wild, trumpeting cries. Pairs of birds establish nesting sites, perform elaborate courtship dances, mate, and raise their chicks.

The North American sandhill crane has cousins all over the world. The crowned crane is an African inhabitant; the common crane lives in Europe and Asia. In Japan, cranes are symbolic of long life, and in folklore are reputed to live for a thousand years. Crane courtship displays in Australia are inspiration for the dances of aboriginal "corroborees" and the Ainu tribe of Japan has a dance honoring the indigenous Manchurian crane.

The English word crane comes from an ancient Germanic term meaning �to cry hoarsely'. The scientific designation of this avian family is gruidae, from the Latin word for crane, grus, also a syllabic representation of the bird's hoarse call. In modern French, the word for this bird is grue.

Our word pedigree also come from the characteristics of this remarkable creature. French in origin, pedigree literally means "foot of the crane." How is a crane's foot related to the reckoning of genetic heritage? The notion behind the metaphor is that this bird's splayed footprint resembles the branching lines of the diagram of a "family tree!"