By Mary Lundeberg – Sandhill Cranes are my husband’s favorite birds. He loves their large size, their wild call and their elegant mating dance. With their long legs and necks, these gray birds with crimson-capped heads stand up to 4 feet tall with a wingspan ranging from 5 to 7 plus feet. Males are slightly larger with no other discernable differences.
You can hear them calling from as far away as 2.5 miles. It’s the structure of their elongated windpipes that produces their distinctive trumpet-like sound. I especially love the synchronized duets that occur when mated cranes stand together. The female makes two calls for everyone from the male. Their courtship dance is another appealing feature of this prehistoric bird. They stretch their wings, bow and then leap gracefully into the air before chasing one another.
Sandhill Cranes mate for life and share parenting duties. Both help to construct the nest, usually in a marsh, bog or shallow pond. The female lays 1-3 eggs, and both are active in incubating the eggs for about 30 days. They also share the duties as protectors, and that’s important with the threat of hungry foxes, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, alligators, hawks, eagles and great horned owls. Young chicks hide under their parent’s wings, but usually only one survives. Passing cars are another threat until the chicks fledge.
Chicks are precocial which means they can swim and leave the nest within a day after hatching. Both parents feed them seeds, insects, berries, frogs, crayfish, grubs and roots for the 10 months they remain with their parents. You’ll see these interesting birds in fields, prairies, wetlands and urban settings like golf courses.
Sandhill Cranes migrate from their northern nesting grounds to warmer climates beginning in October. About 25,000 Greater Sandhill Cranes fly to Florida for the winter, where they join our resident population of about 4,000 to 5,000 Florida Sandhill Cranes, a similar looking subspecies. Florida Sandhill Cranes don’t migrate.
Although these birds are not endangered, the Florida Sandhill Crane is listed as threatened in the state due to loss of habitat from ongoing development of wetland areas. It’s against the law to kill or feed them. Thank you for not getting too close to their chicks.
Hopefully, these magnificent birds will continue to grace our ponds and skies with their melodies and mating dances. Cranes can live up to 30 years or more. The oldest Sandhill Crane fossil, estimated to be 2.5 million years old, was discovered in Florida just east of Sarasota. Many bird lovers and other friends of wildlife hope they survive another million years.
Visit MaryLundeberg.com to see more of Mary’s photos. Mary was the inaugural recipient of our Wildlife Champion Award in 2022.