The Sandhill Crane

The Greater Sandhill Cranes are the largest sub-species and average 4.5-5 feet tall and 10-14 pounds. They are pretty hard to miss!

Like all cranes the Sandhill Crane flies with neck and legs outstretched, a marvelous sight to see in the sky for sure!  The male and female look alike while the immature birds have reddish brown upper parts and gray underparts. Sandhill cranes can live for 20 years or more. Cranes in the wild have a greater chance of dying young.


Sandhill cranes are fairly social birds that are usually in pairs or family groups throughout the year. All cranes are omnivorous, but will eat various types of food based on availability. They will eat small vertebrates (e.g. mice and snakes), and invertebrates such as insects or worms .Cranes often feed with their bills down to the ground as they root around for seeds and other foods in shallow wetlands with vegetation. Corn, wheat and sorghum are readily eaten as well.


Sandhill cranes mate for life. When they form a pair bond, it can last for years until one of the cranes dies. After a mate passes away, the surviving crane will seek out a new mate. Sandhill cranes raise one brood per year with egg laying usually beginning in early April and ending in late May. Both the male and female Sandhill Crane build the nest with plant material from the surrounding area.Nest sites are usually in marshes, bogs, or swales, though cranes will occasionally nest on dry land. The female lays 1 to 3 (usually 2) eggs that are oval-shaped and dull brown with reddish brown markings. Both parents participate in incubation, which lasts 29 to 32 (though usually 30) days. Incubation begins with the laying of the first egg and continues until the second egg has hatched. The chicks are precocial; they hatch covered in down, with their eyes open and are able to leave the nest within 24 hours of hatching. The parents brood the chicks for up to 3 weeks after hatching. They feed the young intensively for the first few weeks, and with decreasing frequency until they reach independence at 9 or 10 months old.







The chicks remain with their parents until 1 or 2 months before the parents begin laying the next clutch of eggs. After leaving their parents, the chicks form nomadic flocks with other subadults and non-breeders. They remain with these flocks until they form breeding pairs and begin breeding between the ages of 2 and 7 years old. Sandhill cranes provide extended biparental care to their young. Both members of a breeding pair build the nest, incubate the eggs and feed and protect the chicks for up to 10 months after hatching. Sandhill cranes that reach independence are expected to live around 7 years. Sandhill cranes can live to at least 21 years of age.



The Sandhill cranes utilizes thermals (a column of rising air) to obtain lift and are able to stay aloft for many hours during migration, requiring only an occasional flap of their wings and expanding very little energy. During migration flocks may be several hundreds of cranes. Families fly together in groups of 20-100 birds in a V formation, usually taking off as the weather begins to warm. They rise in the thermals until almost out of sight forming a V and gliding to the next thermal.