Alice Lindsay Price


The Noblest Flyers

In Natural History
and Cultural Lore

240 pages

8 x 10 inches

ISBN: 1-888809-24-8


over 100 illustrations & photographs


Then some day here come the cranes
planing in from cloud or mist—sharp,
lonely spears, awkwardly graceful.
They reach for the land; they stalk
the ploughed fields, not quite letting us near;
not quite our own, not quite the world’s.

William Stafford
“Watching Sandhill Cranes”

In a March dusk, Cranes flock to roost amid a river in the Great Plains. Dawn in New Mexico desert, and the cranes awake. Flying above a Canadian lake on a summer day, or feeding among the reeds in a wintry Texas marsh, cranes appear, then disappear—soaring spirits of wildness, birds of mystery, survivors of a most ancient and perilous past. Fortunately, the two North American species, Sandhill Crane and the Whooping Crane may still be seen throughout our continent. They are models of the renewing power of nature.

Cranes: The Noblest Flyers is a work crafted from scientific and cultural perspectives inter-woven with the author’s own observations in field and marsh. The pages are illuminated with photographs and illustrations by the author, plus historical images from petroglyphs to medieval woodcuts to Audubon. The scope of this natural and cultural history will pique the interest of the seasoned naturalist as well as the novice birder seeing an echelon of cranes fly overhead for the first time.

Alice Price has created lovely literature about cranes. It is informative, entertaining and inspiring.
—George Archibald, Director, International Crane Foundation


Alice Lindsay Price is a nature writer, photographer, poet, artist and scholar on James Joyce. Her most recent book is Swans of the World: in Nature, History, Myth & Art (Council Oak Books, 1994). She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she is publisher of Riverrun Press and a contributor to Nimrod Literary Review.


Flight of Majesties

by Barbara Riley

The beauty of cranes has been honored in so many recorded cultures that it is tempting to declare these stately birds universal (or global, at least) symbols of peace and strength. In the informal and widely digressive narrative of Cranes: The Noblest Flyers, In Natural History and Cultural Lore, Alice Lindsay Price follows both the dwindling crane populations migrating through ancient flyways all over the globe and the growing coordinated efforts to restore the seven of fifteen species of cranes from endangered status. Counterpoint to historical crane documentation and details of present conservation strategies are lyric descriptions of Price's own travels to view cranes. With her, we travel to the Bosque del Apache in New Mexico—and at water's edge with the roar of tens of thousands of cranes lifting into the air, I am reminded of the times I have stood there, and the unadulterated awe that, paradoxically, a single standing crane can also inspire.

Alice Lindsay Price, a lifelong naturalist with over twenty years in avian scholarship offers far more than science to fellow bird lovers. About her book, Swans of the World, she considers "that timeless zone of poetry and myth" that with this quote from Thoreau (a journal entry of February 16,1860) ". . . A history of animal nature must be animated" best holds how Price will illuminate her facts. Noting that cranes are among the oldest living birds on the planet, that nine million years ago cranes left fossil remains in Nebraska—she evokes one of the oldest myths about cranes—how their orderly V's "dissolve . . . into a scattered alphabet." In the same section of three pages, she works in the Greek classical derivation of Phoebe, John James Audubon's first bird banding effort, Miocene crane history, Japanese affinity for the crane including Sadako's story and ends with an impending bird watch at the Lillian Annette Rowe Bird Sanctuary. By page nineteen the pace is set—as a river loops and eddies, Price passes through a variety of places with many sights (especially the sidebar quotes) merely glimpsed.

The cumulative effect is awareness of the breadth of inspiration cranes have brought to disparate cultures rather than a sequential study—an illustration of a 12th century AD Hohokan pottery design that faces a drawing of a Roman coin struck to honor Caesar Antonius, or a Japanese clan crest of three interlocked cranes opposite a complex petroglyph from Colorado. As the familiar and modest, ". . . the cranberry is the Crane's own, called so by the Dutch American colonial settlers for the bird's old world delight of the new world's berry. Thus the Dutch called it kraanberre. . ." mixes freely with the foreign and vast, "Cranes ride thermals so efficiently, they have been seen flying over Mt. Everest (28,000 feet)", readers can circle and gaze at the wealth of references laid out before them. Whether the story of 1000 Cranes, senbazuru, originating in medieval Japan and transmuted to modern America, or the vagaries of foster parenting baby cranes and the dilemma of precocial chicks, Price brings her unique enthusiasm to sharing every aspect of crane activity.

Readers wishing to go on from this book will find Price's references invaluable. My experience at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin would corroborate her description and the sense of miraculous in being able to walk around a circular building with individual areas containing healthy birds of every species of crane on the planet, all in one place. On another ridge, a row of buildings where cranes are bred can be seen from the public area, but is strictly off-limits to visitors so crane flocks can be restored with minimal human contact. Teaching young cranes to feed without allowing them to imprint on humans requires patience and a willingness to dress up in "a long white costume, a double face mask, and, on one hand . . . a puppet." So begins a description of how Marianne Wellington, trained as a biologist, now trains young Whooping Cranes to fly and to survive on their own.

Story for story, it is a rare pleasure to sit with Alice Price, to read about the people she met, the history she researched, and to share her curiosity about Cranes: easily the noblest flyers.