Look up! It's a bird...it's a crane!

Have you ever seen a Sandhill Crane? Their size will astound you.

Travel & Leisure Posted on Feb 9, 2018
The Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) is a large crane of North America and extreme northeastern Siberia. The common name of the bird references habitat like that of the Platte River, on the edge of Nebraska's Sandhills in the American Midwest. This is the most important stopover area for the Lesser Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis canadensis), with up to 450,000 of these birds migrating through annually.

Description

Adults are gray overall; during breeding, the plumage is usually much worn and stained, particularly in the migratory populations, and looks nearly ochre. The average weight of the larger male is 10.1lbs, while the average weight of females is 8.9lbs. The Sandhill Crane has a red forehead, white cheeks and a long dark pointed bill. Its long dark legs trail behind in flight, and the long neck is kept straight in flight. Immature birds have reddish brown upper-parts and gray underparts. The sexes look alike. Size varies among the different subspecies. This crane frequently gives a loud trumpeting call that suggests a French-style “r” rolled in the throat, and they can be heard from a long distance.

Mated pairs of cranes engage in “unison calling.” The cranes stand close together, calling in a synchronized and complex duet. The female makes two calls for every single call of the male.

The only other large grayish-bodied bird of North America is the Great Blue Heron. This heron is of similar dimensions to the Sandhill Crane and is sometimes mistakenly called a crane, even though it is very different in plumage detail and build. Like other herons, it flies with its neck tucked toward the body.

The Sandhill Crane's large wingspan, typically 5.4 to 6.9 feet, makes this a very skilled soaring bird similar in style to hawks and eagles. Utilizing thermals to obtain lift, so they can stay aloft for many hours, requiring only occasional flapping of their wings and consequently expending little energy. With migratory flocks containing hundreds of birds, they can create clear outlines of the normally invisible rising columns of air (thermals) that they ride.

The cranes fly south for the winter. In their wintering areas they form flocks of over 10,000 birds. One place to observe this is a Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, 100 miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. There is an annual Sandhill Crane Festival in the winter months, there.

Behavior

Sandhill Cranes are fairly social birds that are usually encountered in pairs or family groups through the year. During migration and winter, non-related cranes come together to form “survival groups” which forage and roost together. Such groups often congregate at migration and winter sites, sometimes resulting in thousands of cranes being found together.

They are quite catholic in diet but are mainly herbivorous, often eating various types of food based on availability. They often feed with their bills down to the ground as they root around for seeds and other foods in shallow wetlands with vegetation or various upland habitats. Cultivated foods such as corn, wheat and sorghum are readily eaten and may support large numbers of cranes. Among northern races of Sandhill Cranes, the diet is most varied especially among breeding birds. Northern cranes and their offspring may variously feed on berries, small mammals, insects, snails, reptiles and amphibians.

Sandhill Cranes raise one brood per year. In non-migratory populations, egg-laying can begin as early as December or as late as August. In migratory populations, egg-laying usually begins between early April and late May. Both members of a breeding pair build the nest using plant material from the surrounding areas. Nest sites are usually in marshes, bogs, or swales, though cranes will nest on dry land. The female lays 1 to 3 eggs that are oval-shaped and dull brown with reddish brown markings. Both parents participate in incubation, which lasts 29 to 32 days. The chicks are precocial; they hatch covered in down, with their eyes open and are able to leave the nest within 24 hours of hatching. The parents brood the chicks for up to 3 weeks after hatching. They feed the young intensively for the first few weeks, and with decreasing frequency until they reach independence at 9 or 10 months old. Cranes that reach their independence are expected to live around 7 years, however, can live to at least 21 years of age.

(information from wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandhill_Crane)
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