Sandhill Cranes painting themselves at Delafield in Waukesha County Wisconsin on March 5, 2023

I saw another amazing birding event today in Delafield in Waukesha County. Sandhill Cranes painting themselves by preening mud on and into their feathers. They are known to do this to change their colors to blend in more with their surroundings at nesting time. It is said that iron oxide in the mud is a form of dye, they also said they turn gray again after they molt before migrating in the fall, makes perfect sense. Totally amazing to watch so I had to share some of this excitement with others. After painting, they walked to a nearby puddle and found a couple of things to eat. It was a nice sunny day with no wind and mild temps around 35. Images were taken on March 5, 2023.

The Sandhill Cranes paintbrush…

The artists…

As I watched from a safe distance both Sandhill Cranes painted away…

Once in awhile they would dip their brushes into the little standing water/mud next to them for more mud for painting…

Getting the job done…

Talk about a natural piece of art…

More painting…

And more painting…

Trying to do the complete job…

They finished…and walked to a nearby puddle…

Poking in the mud, they find things to eat…

Something in the bill…



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About admin

Window to Wildlife features the photography of Jim Edlhuber. A lifelong native of Wisconsin, Jim has been photographing wildlife for 20 years. He considers himself an avid photographer and is always trying to capture nature and wildlife through his lens. He is in several photography clubs and has won numerous awards for his work. In recent years, Jim has focused mostly on birding photography and finds it to be the most challenging.

18 Responses to Sandhill Cranes painting themselves at Delafield in Waukesha County Wisconsin on March 5, 2023

  1. Donna Ozolins Miller says:

    Wow! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Jean says:

    That is so beautiful! Thank You for sharing. I had never heard of such a thing but it makes perfect sense. So intelligent.

  3. Karren Jeske says:

    I love this story series Jim. Thank you for capturing it and sharing it,

  4. Thomas Wood says:

    Your patience was well rewarded, Jim! I’ve seen the “painted” Sandhill Cranes many times, but never saw them painting their feathers. Thanks for posting these beautiful photos.

  5. Gisela says:

    Beautiful series of photos, Jim. Wonderful to see.

  6. Shawn Brown says:

    Thank you! Sandhill cranes migrate through my area and do not nest, so I’m happy to see this behavior in your pictures.

  7. Karen Johnson says:

    You always find the coolest stuff!

  8. Pam Skaar says:

    My theory is they paint themselves to match the color of their orange chicks. That way the chicks don’t stand out as much in the nesting and early foraging area.

  9. Ann Lowrey says:

    Thanks for sharing this excellent photo essay. Another example of birds using tools. I never knew how they got the mud on their feathers. Happy spring! The Sandhills are coming back!

  10. Lynne says:

    So interesting! Thanks! I would enjoy seeing one wider angle view to give context (record shot) to the wonderful closeups 😊

  11. Marilyn Runge says:

    You continue to show us, through you artistry, how great nature is.

  12. Karen Etter Hale says:

    These are marvelous. A good friend watched them paint their feathers once, years ago, in the Mud Lake marshes in Dodge County. Pam is close. They do this so they blend in with the marsh vegetation when they’re on the nest, and afterward when they’re leading the colts in search of food.

  13. Mary says:

    Fascinating behavior you have captured. Thanks for sharing. I enjoy your photos and comments very much!

  14. Kurt says:

    Great series of images Jim! Very happy they are back. Dragons next month.

  15. Peggy says:

    Wonderful series Jim -love it. I had some cranes close up today and could see and hear the yodeling at the same time. It was a great day – more FOY every day. I am sooo happy.

  16. Mary Jo Selinsky says:

    Brand new information to me. Thank you, Jim, for sharing such beauty, for your patience in getting the pictures and for explaining the process. I love seeing Sandhills cranes.

  17. Cindy says:


  18. Camilla J Sciore says:

    Gorgeous photos of their plumage!

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