Common Name: Sandhill Crane
Species: Grus canadensis
photo M. Noonan
The sandhill crane belongs to the
family, Gruidae, in the Avian Order Gruiformes. Gruidae
is the crane family. There are fifteen crane species
worldwide, with two species inhabiting North America.
The critically endangered whooping crane is the largest
North American species, while the sandhill crane is the
second, smaller species. Its scientific name is Grus
canadensis means "crane belonging to Canada". However,
the sandhill crane's range is not limited to Canada.
Sandhill cranes grow to about 4-5ft in height, with a
6-7ft wingspan. Males are larger than females, usually
weighing about 12lbs, while females weigh about nine
pounds. Adults are predominantly gray, with white cheeks
and a bald, bright red forehead. Since these cranes
preen with iron oxide stained mud, their feathers become
a rusty brown. As large birds, cranes are often mistaken
for herons. However, differences do exist between the
two types of birds. Herons fly with their neck in an "S"
shape, while cranes fly with their neck outstretched.
Sandhill Crane Habitat/Diet
Sandhill cranes live throughout
northeastern Siberia, Canada, the United States and
Cuba. The wintering habitats of the sandhill crane are
prairie and marshland. Its more northern, summer habitat
is primarily tundra and marshy tundra. Open grasslands
and shallow waters provide the sandhill crane with a
variety of prey items, including insects, aquatic
vegetation, berries, lizards, amphibians and small
Sandhill cranes mate for life.
Courtship displays are characterized by trumpeting, wing
flapping and jumping. Pairs migrate each year to avoid
the cool northern winter and to reproduce. Sandhill
cranes migrate from their northern summer nesting
grounds to their southern winter grounds during the
fall. Those inhabiting the northern United States and
Canada travel to the southern United States and Mexico.
Pairs return to their northern grounds in the spring to
construct nests. Two eggs are laid atop a nesting mound
of vegetation surrounded by a moat of water. About 30
days later, the eggs hatch. Occasionally, one egg
hatches before the other, often resulting in the older
chick attacking the younger chick. The surviving chick
is then cared for by the parents. At ten weeks the chick
is able to take flight. The chick remains with its
parents through next year's migration, but is abandoned
upon arrival to the nesting grounds next spring.
Immature sandhill crane's have a brown coat color and
feathered forehead. They molt into their adult coat
during the early winter.
Sandhill Crane Conservation
Populations of sandhill cranes are
relatively stable. Most are increasing. Habitat loss is
the primary threat to this species. Stopover sites are
essential for successful migrations, and the loss of
these sites is a very serious threat to the sandhill
crane's welfare. Of the six subspecies of sandhill
crane, two are considered endangered - the Mississippi
sandhill crane and Cuban sandhill crane.