Nothing out of the ordinary, right? Just two Sandhill Cranes preening. OR ARE THEY?
Look again: the one on the right is using a bunch of wet grass to smear mud all over its own back. What’s up with that? I thought at first it might be a courting move, essentially wearing makeup. There’s at least one bird species, the Bearded Vulture, that dye their head feathers all sorts of colours from dirt and clay, just to look fabulous.
But no, what these are doing is kind of the opposite: it’s camouflage. They do this before nesting, and the feathers can remain stained red for quite a long time. Utility aside, I gotta say it’s kind of pretty.