The Sandhill crane is the world's most abundant crane species. They are big birds, and have long necks and legs, impressive wingspans and long pointed beaks. Adults are gray with crowns of red. Juveniles are also gray, but are washed with brown. In the breeding season, the adult's gray plumage is often mud-stained brown. A "bustle", which goes over the short tail, is made up of long, drooping wing feathers (inner secondaries and tertials.)
The large range of the Sandhill crane extends throughout North America, going from northern Canada to northern Mexico. Some also live in Cuba and the very north-eastern parts of Siberia. The Sandhill crane lives in a variety of types of open habitats, mainly in freshwater wetlands like bogs, fens and sedge meadows, as well as pine savanna, grasslands, and cultivated areas.
Sandhill cranes are diurnal and partially migratory. The southern populations stay near their breeding sites all year, but the northern populations winter in the south. They usually live in pairs and family groups. They sometimes join up with non-mated cranes in survival groups, to roost and feed together. When an avian predator approaches, the sandhill crane flies at it, kicking it with its feet. When the predator is a mammal, it will move towards it, with its wings spread, and points its bill at it. If it is not scared off, the crane then attacks, hissing, stabbing with its bill and kicking with its feet. These cranes communicate mainly by means of vocalizations and physical displays. Adults can make more than a dozen different calls, which have been described as types of "trills", "purrs" and "rattles".
Sandhill cranes are omnivorous, eating cultivated grains such as wheat, corn, and sorghum, when they are available. In the north, a wider variety of food is consumed, including berries, insects, small mammals, snails, reptiles, and amphibians.
Sandhill cranes are monogamous. Breeding pairs usually stay together for life, maintaining their bond by performing displays of courtship, remaining near to each other and calling in unison. In populations that do not migrate, eggs are laid any time from December to August. The migratory sandhill cranes usually lay in April and May. The adults both build the nest, with plant material from their surrounding area. 1 to 3 eggs are laid and both parents incubate them, for 29 to 32 days. Chicks are precocial, being covered in down when they hatch, with eyes open and able to exit their nest within 24 hours. The chicks are brooded for as long as 3 weeks after they hatch. The parents feed the young intensively during the first few weeks, with decreasing frequency until the chicks reach independence at around 9 or 10 months. The young can begin breeding from between 2 and 7 years of age.
Development around the Sandhill crane's staging and wintering grounds could have a major detrimental effect on the migrant birds. As large numbers of them are concentrated in relatively small areas, these birds are especially vulnerable to threats like habitat degradation and loss. Many cranes are also hunted for food. Human disturbance during incubation and the rearing of chicks results in the abandonment of nests and loss of young birds.
The total population number of the Sandhill crane is around 650, 000 individuals. This species' numbers are increasing today and it is classified as least concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.
Sandhill cranes impact the species they prey upon. Young or sick cranes provide food for predators.