A Sandhill Crane crossing a road

52 Fun Facts About Sandhill Cranes (Test Your Knowledge!)

Sandhill Cranes are one of the most fascinating birds in North America. They have many unique traits that make them stand out from other species. If you’re lucky, you might spot a sandhill crane while you’re out birdwatching.

These large birds are impressive to see in person. Keep reading to learn 52 fun facts about sandhill cranes. You’ll find out what they look like, where they live, what they eat and more.

General Overview

  • Identification: Sandhill Cranes are a type of bird that lives in North America. They have long, dark, pointed bills and a long neck. The body feathers are mostly gray with some pale tone of brown. There is also a large red patch on the head, white throat and white patches on each cheek.
  • Length: 47.0″ – 60.0″ in (120 – 152 cm).
  • Weight: 7.5 – 10.8 lbs. (120 – 173 oz.).
  • Wingspan: 72.0 – 78.7 in (183 – 200 cm).
  • Order: Gruiformes
  • Family: Gruidae
  • Genus: Antigone
  • Species: A. canadensis
  • Scientific Name: Grus canadensis
  • Lifespan: 20-30 years in the wild. 80 years in captivity.
  • Range: The Sandhill Cranes are the most common crane in North America. Their range extends from southeastern Alaska to southern Canada and south through the United States to northeastern Mexico. 
  • Migration: They spend their winters at marshes, swamps, and other wetland habitats in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Mexico and Central America. They have been known to migrate as far south as Panama during winter to escape the cold weather. Their migration pattern can be seen from October to March, when they fly back north again.
  • Habitat: Swamps, bogs, vernal pools,  prairies, wet meadows, open wetlands, freshwater marshes, grasslands, agricultural fields, and savannas.
  • Diet: The sandhill crane’s diet consists of plant material (seeds, leaves & berries), small vertebrates (frogs, fish, snakes), insects (grasshoppers, beetles, ants, flies and caterpillars), crustaceans and mollusks.
  • Global Population: est. 650,000 individuals.
  • Conservation Status: Not extinct (Listed Endangered Species).
  • Breeding Period: Non-migratory birds lay their eggs between December and August, and migrating birds will lay their eggs between Feb and April.
  • Incubation Length: 29-32 days.
  • Clutch Size: 1-3 eggs.
  • Number of Broods: 1 Brood.
  • Fledgling Period: 9 to 10 months.
  • Nesting Habits:  Sandhill cranes nest in remote wetlands such as marshes, mudflats, shallow lakes, or bogs, and prefer to be near the dense cover of tall grasses. They will often build their nests on hummocks made by prairie dogs or other ground dwelling rodents.
  • Nesting Materials: Sandhill Cranes build their nests from various materials, but they typically use cattail or tall grass to construct a large cup shaped nest that is almost 4 feet in diameter. The nest is constructed out of long stems, held together with the help of mud, which helps hold everything together. Both mates will gather material for the project. 
  • Mating Season: The mating season for Sandhill Cranes is November to January with the egg-laying period lasting from February to March or April (depending on the region). 
  • Incubation: After the nest is finished, both adults will incubate the egg for *approximately* 29-32 days, during which time they may lose up to 1/3 of their body weight. The mother feeds her chick for about 4 weeks after hatching. The young are able to fly at 9 -10.5 weeks old, but are not yet ready to leave their nest until 10 months old.
Sandhill Crane nesting
Image by Virginia Allain from Pixabay

Fun Facts About Sandhill Cranes

  • The Sandhill Crane is the second-tallest bird in North America. The tallest bird is the Whooping Crane.
  • Sandhill cranes start to migrate south across the United States in late October to early December.
  • Sandhill cranes are most active during the hours of sunrise and sunset. This is when they are feeding, courting, or fighting with other sandhill cranes. They are usually more vocal at this time as well. If you want to see them up close, then I recommend that you visit them at sunrise or sunset so that you can get close to their habitat without being too intrusive on their daily lives.
  • Sandhill cranes spend their time foraging for plants, seeds, insects, and small animals to eat. 
  • An adult sandhill crane’s favorite food is small fish; they can’t help but catch them as they wade through shallow waters to feed on plants. 
  • Male sandhill cranes are larger than females. 
  • Sandhill cranes can be found on the Pacific coast from Canada to Baja California. 
  • The largest nesting population of sandhill cranes is on Washington’s San Juan Islands. [In 1992, the Pacific coast population was estimated at 2,200 birds.] 
  • By mid-March, most sandhill cranes have migrated back north to the United States and Canada. 
  • In the late 1990s, there were reports of about 200 breeding pairs remaining in Washington’s San Juan Islands. 
  • Sandhill cranes like to dig out nests in shallow waterside pits, often under natural spruce trees. 
  • They also nest on forested islands off the Pacific coast of California, on freshwater lakes in addition to lakes and marshes or lowland wetlands, and on coastal or riverine riparian woodlands. 
  • The largest sandhill crane ever recorded weighed about 11 pounds. 
  • The sandhill cranes are monogamous and usually mate for life. They form a pair bond, in which they perform courtship displays, and they both participate in nest building and incubation, as well as provisioning the young. But if they happen to find a new partner, it is usually after they’ve been widowed or separated from their original mate due to a fight or other circumstance.
  • Sandhill Cranes can fly fast, reaching speeds up to 50 miles per hour! This is because they use their long wingspan and long legs for propulsion.​​​​​​​
sandhill cranes flying
Image by Marlin Greene from Pixabay
  • The Sandhill Crane migration is one of the most spectacular animal migrations in North America and makes for a great bird watching experience.
  • A flock of sandhill cranes is called a “Sedge”.
  • Sandhill cranes have 3 long toes, with long claws on each toe.
  • Males and females are similar in appearance, however, males tend to be larger and have a more robust bill than the female.
  • Sandhill cranes are considered an indicator species. This means that if their numbers are declining, then other bird populations are likely to be declining as well.
  • Sandhill cranes always migrate in flocks of 100 or more individuals.
  • They migrate long distances to avoid drought and other adverse conditions.
  • If they do not migrate, they will build their nests on ground level because there is plenty of food and water close by.
  • A crane’s call sounds like a deep trumpeting sound.
  •  A flock can contain up to 500 individuals, but this number usually fluctuates around 200 to 300 individuals.
  • The largest population of Sandhill Cranes is found in Florida, where they live all year round. However, if you live anywhere else in the United States, then you will be lucky to see this bird as it travels south for winter!
  • Sandhill Cranes were once thought to be good luck in Native American cultures, so people often named their children after them. 
  • This species also has some interesting courtship rituals including an intricate dance where they raise their wings and strut around in circles with their partner before mating. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are sandhill crane babies called?

The young chicks of the Sandhill Crane are called “Colts”. These baby birds live in a safe and secure environment under their mother’s wings until they are ready to take care of themselves.

Why do sandhill cranes scream?

Sandhill Cranes scream as a way to communicate with other birds, especially during mating season. In fact, the screams of male sandhill cranes is believed to be an indicator for females that he is healthy and able to provide for her and their chicks after mating has occurred.

What happens when a sandhill crane’s mate dies?

These birds are monogamous during mating season, but if one of them dies they will quickly seek out another partner to replace their lost mate. The chances of finding another partner depend on how many other male and female sandhills there are in their territory. 

Can baby sandhill cranes fly?

Baby Sandhill Cranes take their first flight in about 9-10 weeks after they hatch from their eggs, but will not leave the nest until 10 months old.

What animals eat sandhill cranes?

There are a number of animals that enjoy eating sandhill cranes. Some of the predators that hunt these birds include raccoons, wolves, coyotes, foxes, hawks and eagles.

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  • Vince S

    Meet Vince, the passionate founder and author of Learn Bird Watching, boasting 30 years of birding experience. With an unwavering mission to empower fellow bird enthusiasts, Vince shares invaluable wisdom and guidance. As a dedicated moderator and contributor to Quora's Bird Watchers' Club, he actively engages with the birding community, where his insightful answers have garnered over 440,000 views and over 2,670 upvotes. Whether you're a budding birder or a seasoned avian aficionado, his wealth of knowledge is at your service.