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Sandhill Crane

Common Name: Sandhill Crane.

Scientific Name: Antigone Canadensis.

What to look for?  Think Sesame Street’s Big Bird, but not yellow! The Sandhill Crane is a tall, heavy-bodied bird with a long neck and long legs. They are gray overall with some tan body feathers. They have drooping feathers that form a “bustle” around its back end. And atop its head, a key identifying feature of a Sandhill Crane is its red crown.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? You must be lucky to sight one of these birds here on the ground or in the water. Yet a rare Sandhill Crane was sighted and photographed both at Stonegate Park and on the western Carillon Stonegate Pond in April of 2018. More typically, Sandhill Cranes might be seen flying over our Carillon Stonegate Pond community during migration from Wisconsin to their stopover at the Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area in Indiana while on their way to winter homes in southern Georgia and Florida.

How big are they? The Sandhill Crane is very large. They average around five feet in height. And their wingspan is approximately 6 ½ feet. They weigh in at around 7 ½ ponds.

What are their flight patterns? Sandhill Cranes are elegant in flight. They fly with their neck stretched out and feet trailing behind. They fly very high in the sky during migration. They can fly up to 400-500 miles in one day, usually at an altitude of around 6,000 to 7,000 feet, but often as high as 13,000 feet as they migrate through the Rocky Mountains.

How else do they behave? On their wintering grounds and during migration, Sandhill Cranes form extremely large flocks into the tens of thousands. Sandhill Cranes mate for life, choosing their partners based on dancing displays where they stretch their wings, pump their heads, bow, and leap into the air (Elaine on Seinfeld?). They threaten predators by spreading their wings and then hissing and kicking. Sandhill Cranes forage in prairies, grasslands, and marshes; they do not hunt in open water as herons and egrets do.

What’s for dinner? The Sandhill Crane feeds on land or in shallow marshes where plants grow out of the water, gleaning from the surface and probing with its bill. Its diet includes seeds and cultivated grains, as well as berries, tubers, small vertebrates, and invertebrates.

Where do they take up residence? Most Sandhill Cranes live in freshwater wetlands and may be found in open prairies, grasslands, and wetlands. Outside of the breeding season, they often roost in deeper water of ponds or lakes, where they are safe from predators. Sandhill Cranes winter in the southern U.S. in Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and in Mexico. During the late spring, summer, and early fall, Sandhill Cranes can be seen at their breeding grounds in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan as well as Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska.

When and where do they breed and nest? Sandhill Cranes mate for life. Sandhill Cranes breed in open wetland habitats surrounded by shrubs or trees. They nest in marshes, bogs, wet meadows, prairies, burned-over aspen stands, and other moist habitats, preferring those with standing water. In the early spring, as Sandhill Cranes are migrating to their breeding grounds, single cranes will start pairing up. When the pair reaches the northern breeding grounds, they mate and build a nest. Cranes build a ground nest out of plant materials. They often have two eggs, although typically only one will survive as a fledgling. In the fall, juvenile Sandhill Cranes migrate south with their parents.

Where do they migrate? Found in several scattered areas of North America, Sandhill Cranes reach their peak abundance at migratory stopover points on the Great Plains. En route, more than three-fourths of all Sandhill Cranes use migratory staging areas in a single 75-mile stretch along Nebraska's Platte River. These magnificent birds also stage at the Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area near Demotte, Indiana (approximately two hours from here). Sandhill Cranes winter in the southern U.S. and northern Mexico. Populations nesting in Mississippi, Florida, and Cuba do not migrate.

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Sandhill Crane has seen steady increases in populations. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 500 thousand.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Their loud, rolling, trumpeting calls are unique and can be heard from miles away. If you hear this call, look up as they may be passing high (nearly one mile) overhead on their migration.  Here is a link to the sounds of a Sandhill Crane.

Interesting Facts About the Sandhill Crane:

  • For musical instrument aficionados, Sandhill Cranes have long tracheas (windpipes) that coil into the sternum and help the sound develop a lower pitch and harmonics that add richness to their calls.

  • Sandhill Cranes are known for their dancing skills. Courting cranes stretch their wings, pump their heads, bow, and leap into the air in a graceful and energetic dance.

  • They mate for life, which can mean two decades or more, and stay with their mates year-round.

  • The earliest Sandhill Crane fossil unearthed in Florida was estimated to be 2.5 million years old.

  • The oldest Sandhill Crane on record was nearly 37 years old.

For more information on the Sandhill Crane and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society, National Geographic and National Wildlife Federation.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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