Sandhill Crane

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Common Name: Sandhill Crane
Scientific Name: Grus canadensis

Size: 46 inches (117 cm)

Habitat: North America and Asia; distributed throughout North America, extending into Cuba and far northeastern Siberia. The three migratory subspecies (Lesser, Greater and Canadian) are distributed across a broad breeding range in the northern U.S. and Canada as well as eastern Siberia, with wintering grounds in the southern United States and northern Mexico. The three non-migratory subspecies (Mississippi, Cuban, and Florida) have restricted ranges in the southern United States and Cuba. Found in open fresh water wetlands, but the different subspecies utilize habitats that range from bogs, sedge meadows, and fens to open grasslands, pine savannas, and cultivated lands. Sandhill Cranes occur at their highest breeding density in habitats that contain open sedge meadows in wetlands that are adjacent to short vegetation in uplands.

Status: : Least Concern. Global Population: 520, 000 - 530,000. Some subspecies are endangered. Loss and degradation of riverine and wetland ecosystems are the most important threats to Sandhill Crane populations. For the migratory populations, this is of greatest concern in staging and wintering areas. Spring staging areas along the Platte River in Nebraska are of special concern because of their importance to the migratory subspecies and the development pressures facing this region. Approximately 80% of all Sandhill Cranes utilize a 75-mile stretch of the Platte River in spring migration. Elsewhere, small breeding populations can face disproportionate mortality on fall staging areas due to over-hunting. Residential and commercial development pressures facing lands occupied by birds belonging to non-migratory subspecies in Mississippi, Florida, and Cuba also pose significant threats.

Diet: Plant tubers, grains, small vertebrates (rodents and snakes) and invertebrates (insects or worms).

Nesting: Immature birds have reddish brown upperparts and gray under parts. The sexes look alike; but within a breeding pair, males tend to be larger than females. 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. Sandhill Cranes have been found to devour chicks they consider “weaklings”.

Cool Facts: The Sandhill Crane has one of the longest fossil histories of any extant bird. While a 10-million-year-old crane fossil from Nebraska is often cited as being of this species, it this is more likely from a prehistoric relative or the direct ancestor. The oldest unequivocal Sandhill Crane fossil is "just" 2.5 million years old which is more than 1 ½ times older than the earliest remains of any other living species of birds. Sandhill Cranes are the most abundant of the world's cranes.

There are six subspecies of Sandhill Crane. The different sub-species of Sandhill Crane vary greatly in size and weight. Lesser Sandhills, who breed at more northern latitudes such as the arctic, are the smallest, weighing on average about 6-7 pounds and standing 3-3.5 feet tall. At the other end of the extreme, temperate-nesting Greater Sandhills are the largest sub-species and average 4.5-5 feet tall and 10-14 pounds. Body plumage is characterized by varying shades of gray. In many areas, wild Sandhills preen iron-rich mud into their feathers creating a deep rusty brown hue which lasts during spring and summer. As fall advances, these rusty feathers molt and the birds return to their grayish appearance. In some regions, however, iron-rich mud is absent and the birds appear grey all year. The forehead and crown are covered with reddish skin. Face, chin, upper throat, and nape are white to pale gray. Adults have a white cheek patch. Legs and toes are black.

  • Lesser Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis canadensis
  • Cuban Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis nesiotes – ESA: Endangered
  • Florida Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis pratensis– ESA: Endangered
  • Mississippi Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis pulla – ESA: Endangered
  • Canadian Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis rowani
  • Greater Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis tabida

Found in Songbird ReMix Shorebirds Volume I

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