Sandhill Crane
Grus canadensis
Population size
Life Span
21 years
Top speed
km/h mph 
kg lbs 
cm inch 
m ft 

The Sandhill crane (Antigone canadensis) is a species of large crane of North America and extreme northeastern Siberia. The common name of this bird refers to a habitat like that at the Platte River, on the edge of Nebraska's Sandhills on the American Great Plains. This is the most important stopover area for the nominotypical subspecies, the Lesser sandhill crane, with up to 450,000 of these birds migrating through annually.


Sandhill cranes 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 northeastern parts of Siberia. Sandhill cranes are partially migratory; the southern populations stay near their breeding sites all year, while others migrate to the Southwestern United States and Mexico. Sandhill cranes live 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 Crane habitat map
Sandhill Crane habitat map
Sandhill Crane
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Habits and Lifestyle

Sandhill cranes are diurnal birds. 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. Sandhill 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". They frequently give a loud, trumpeting call that suggests a rolled "r" in the throat, and they can be heard from a long distance. 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 everyone from the male.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Sandhill cranes are mainly herbivorous, but eat various types of food, depending on availability. They readily eat cultivated foods such as corn, wheat, cottonseed, and sorghum. Waste corn is useful to cranes preparing for migration, providing them with nutrients for the long journey. Among northern races of Sandhill cranes, their diet is most varied, especially among breeding birds. They variously feed on berries, small mammals, insects, snails, reptiles, and amphibians.

Mating Habits

December-August, April-May
29-32 days
9-10 months
1-3 eggs

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 between 2 and 7 years of age.


Population threats

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 the loss of young birds.

Population number

The total population number of the Sandhill crane is around 670,000-830,000 individuals, which roughly equates to 450,000-550,000 mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List, and its numbers today are increasing.

Ecological niche

Sandhill cranes impact the species they prey upon. Young or sick cranes provide food for predators.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Sandhill cranes are well known for their skills in dancing. Courting cranes will stretch their wings, bob their heads up and down, bow, and jump into the air, doing an energetic and graceful dance.
  • People have been inspired by the elegance of cranes in cultures all around the world including Aldo Leopold, the great conservationist, scientist, and nature writer, who wrote about their “nobility, won in the march of aeons.”
  • The earliest fossil of the Sandhill crane, estimated at 2.5 million years old, was dug up in Florida in the Macasphalt Shell Pit.
  • Some crane species may travel as far as 500 miles (804 km) a day when seeking food.
  • Cranes depend on wind and warm air currents for attaining the right height and length of their flight.

Coloring Pages


1. Sandhill Crane Wikipedia article -
2. Sandhill Crane on The IUCN Red List site -

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