Sandhill Crane

Common Name: Sandhill Crane
Class: Aves
Order: Gruiformes
Family: Gruidae
Genus: Grus
Species: Grus canadensis

photo M. Noonan

Sandhill Crane Taxonomy/Description

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 rodents.

photo M. Noonan

Sandhill Crane Behavior/Reproduction

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.

Content provided by Canisius College students under the direction of Michael Noonan, PhD.