Sandhill Crane Fact File
Wild 20 years
Record 36 years
The sandhill crane is a tall species of bird with grey feathers and a red cap found across North America and parts of Asia. They are threatened by habitat loss.
Each year most of the population undertake a migration from the southern areas where they over-winter to the breeding grounds in the North.
These omnivorous animals use their long, thin beak to seize a wide variety of plants, insects and animals.
Learn more about these brilliant birds by reading on below.
Across the majority of their body is gray feathers. A red crown is present on the head running down across the eye to the beak. On the sides of the face are patches of white feathers.
When preening the adults will rub iron-rich mud across their feathers. This gives them a reddish-brown coloration to their plumage.
They have a relatively short bill which is used to eat a wide variety of prey. This bill along with the legs and feet are colored grey. Their head is situated at the top of a long, thin neck.
A sandhill crane stands 1.2m (4ft) tall with a wingspan of 200cm (79in) across. A average sandhill crane will weigh 4-5.5kg (8.25-12lbs). They are the smaller of America’s 2 crane species.
Males tend to be slightly larger than females.
Sandhill cranes are omnivores. They feed on plants, grains, insects and small animals such as mice, reptiles and amphibians.
North America, Asia and the Caribbean are the native homes of the sandhill crane. Here they are found throughout Canada, the United States, China, Cuba, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Turks and Caicos Islands, Bermuda, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Faroe Islands, Greenland, Ireland, Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Sandhill cranes are found in grasslands, wet meadows, marshes and bogs. Nesting occurs in an open, wet grassland except for the Cuban population which nest in rocky, mountainous areas.
They may be seen in agricultural areas during the late summer when they will feed on split corn.
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Pairs form for life and may remain together for up to 20 years. When forming a partnership they may perform one of their intricate dancing displays.
Nesting occurs on a mound of vegetation. In to this nest they will deposit two eggs. The male will stand guard and defend the nest. These eggs are incubated for a month.
Within 8 hours of hatching the chicks can leave the nest and are capable of swimming. At hatching they are covered with yellow down feathers. Juveniles remain with their parents for 9 to 10 months.
After leaving their parents the chicks form flocks of sub-adults which travel together until the time they pair up.
Pairs raise a single brood together each year.
The earliest age of sexual maturity is two years old though some do not mate until seven years old.
Sandhill cranes produce a loud trumpeting noise. This is possible due to their unique anatomy with a long windpipe which coils in to the sternum. This is one of twelve recorded vocalizations for this species. These include ‘trills,’ ‘purrs,’ and rattles.
They will perform dances where they stretch their wings, bow and leap in to the air.
Populations in the North are considered migratory and move to the South to over-winter. Populations in some areas of the South remain there year round.
Migration is undertaken in flocks of up to 200 birds. Prior to these flights they gather at staging areas with up to 1,000 other birds.
In flight they have the neck outstretched.
These animals are active by day.
Predators and Threats
Sandhill cranes face a number of predators including foxes, racoons, coyotes, wolves, bobcats and birds of prey such as crows, hawks and eagles.
While considered to have a strong population across much of their range the sandhill crane is threatened in Cuba and Mississippi.
Threats to the sandhill crane include habitat loss and development.
In the United States the sandhill crane is offered protection under the Migratory Bird Act. Around 700,000 sandhill cranes are currently believed to live in the wild.
A sandhill crane fossil estimated to be 2.5 million years old was found in the Macasphalt Shell Pit in Florida.
Five subspecies of the sandhill crane are recognized based on their size and geographic separation.
Public Domain. USFWS.
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