Photograph by Marc Moritsch
Sandhill Crane Range
- Average life span in the wild:
- 20 years
- Body, 31.5 to 47.2 in (80 to 120 cm); wingspan, 5 to 6 ft (1.2 to 1.3 m)
- 6.5 to 14 lbs (3 to 6.5 kg)
- Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Sandhills are the most common of all the world's cranes. A fossil from the Miocene Epoch, some ten million years ago, was found to be structurally the same as the modern sandhill crane. Today, these large birds are found predominately in North America. They range south to Mexico and Cuba, and as far west as Siberia.
Migratory subspecies of sandhill cranes breed in the Northern U.S., Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Each winter they undertake long southern journeys to wintering grounds in Florida, Texas, Utah, Mexico, and California. En route, more than three-fourths of all sandhill cranes use migratory staging areas in a single 75-mile (120-kilometer) stretch along Nebraska's Platte River.
Most sandhill cranes live in freshwater wetlands. They are opportunistic eaters that enjoy plants, grains, mice, snakes, insects, or worms. They often dig in the soil for tubers and can sometimes cause significant crop damage, which brings them into conflict with farmers.
The birds are naturally gray and their heads are topped with a crimson crown. Some cranes preen themselves by adding mud to their feathers and thus taking on a temporary brown hue. This may happen because the birds use their bills to probe for food in muddy wetland soil.
During mating, pairs vocalize in a behavior known as "unison calling." They throw their heads back and unleash a passionate duet—an extended litany of coordinated song. Cranes also dance, run, leap high in the air and otherwise cavort around—not only during mating but all year long.
Sandhill cranes usually nest in wetlands and create a structure from whatever plants may be at hand. Females typically lay two eggs, which both parents incubate. Males take responsibility for defending the nest.
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