Bird GuideCranesSandhill Crane

At a Glance

Found in several scattered areas of North America, Sandhill Cranes reach their peak abundance at migratory stopover points on the Great Plains. The early spring gathering of Sandhills on the Platte River in Nebraska is among the greatest wildlife spectacles on the continent, with over a quarter of a million birds present at one time. Although they are currently very common, their dependence on key stopover sites makes them vulnerable to loss of habitat in the future.
Category
Cranes, Long-legged Waders
Conservation
Low Concern
Habitat
Coasts and Shorelines, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Freshwater Wetlands, Saltwater Wetlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Tundra and Boreal Habitats
Region
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Behavior
Direct Flight, Flap/Glide, Formation
Population
560.000

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Sandhill Cranes nesting in north migrate long distances (some cross the Bering Straits every spring and fall, en route to and from nesting grounds in Siberia). Those from the southern part of the main breeding range, in the northern and western parts of the Lower 48 states, migrate shorter distances; in recent years they have shown a trend toward migrating later in fall and earlier in spring, and some are now overwintering farther north than in the past. Populations nesting in Mississippi, Florida, and Cuba do not migrate.

Description

34-48" (86-122 cm). W. 6' 8 (2 m). Adult all gray with red patch on head, sometimes brown staining on body feathers; juvenile has brownish head. Different shape from Great Blue Heron, with shorter bill, bushy tuft of feathers over rump.
Size
About the size of a Heron
Color
Brown, Gray, Red, White
Wing Shape
Broad, Fingered, Pointed
Tail Shape
Short

Songs and Calls

A loud rattling kar-r-r-r-o-o-o.
Call Pattern
Flat
Call Type
Rattle, Yodel

Habitat

Prairies, fields, marshes, tundra. Habitat varies with region, but usually nests around marshes or bogs, either in open grassland or surrounded by forest. Northernmost birds nest on marshy tundra. In migration and winter, often around open prairie, agricultural fields, river valleys.

Behavior

Eggs

Usually 2, sometimes 1, rarely 3. Variably pale olive to buff, marked with brown or gray. Incubation is by both sexes, 29-32 days. Female does more of incubating (typically all night, part of day). Young: Leave the nest within a day after hatching, follow parents in marsh. Both parents feed young at first, but young gradually learn to feed themselves. Age at first flight about 65-75 days. Young remain with parents for 9-10 months, accompanying them in migration.

Young

Leave the nest within a day after hatching, follow parents in marsh. Both parents feed young at first, but young gradually learn to feed themselves. Age at first flight about 65-75 days. Young remain with parents for 9-10 months, accompanying them in migration.

Feeding Behavior

See family introduction. Except in breeding season, forages in flocks.

Diet

Omnivorous. Diet varies widely with location and season. Major food items include insects, roots of aquatic plants; also eat rodents, snails, frogs, lizards, snakes, nestling birds, berries, seeds. May eat large quantities of cultivated grains when available.

Nesting

Courtship includes elaborate "dance," with birds spreading wings, leaping in air while calling. Nest site is among marsh vegetation in shallow water (sometimes up to 3' deep), sometimes on dry ground close to water. Nest (built by both sexes) is mound of plant material pulled up from around site; nest may be built up from bottom or may be floating, anchored to standing plants.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Within the last few decades, Sandhill Cranes have greatly expanded their nesting range and numbers in the upper Midwest, a population that migrates southeastward toward Florida for the winter. Most populations now stable or increasing, but still vulnerable to loss of habitat. Degradation of habitat at major stopover points for migrants could have serious impact on species. Localized races in Mississippi and Cuba are endangered.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Sandhill Crane. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Sandhill Crane

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

Explore More