Home > Blog > Wildlife of the Week > The Splendid Sandhill Crane: Wildlife of the Week – 2023 Week 21

Posted: May 21, 2023

Our Wildlife of the Week – 2023 Week 21…

Meet the “Sandhill Crane”!

(Grus canadensis)
Sandhill Crane walking in meadow
Sandhill Crane walking in meadow in Grand Teton National Park.

Sandhill Crane Physical Description

Sandhill Cranes are large birds with heavy bodies and long necks and legs. They stand about 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall, with wing spans of about 6.5 feet (2 meters). They are uniformly grayish, with a white cheek and a bald red crown. They can be distinguished from other large wading birds in flight by their outstretched neck, and their wingbeats, which are a slow downward beat followed by a quick upward flick.1

Male and female Sandhill Cranes are similar in appearance, though males are usually larger than females.1

Two sandhill cranes, with the distinctive red patches on their heads, stand along the water's edge on the Lake Clark coast.
Two sandhill cranes, with the distinctive red patches on their heads, stand along the water’s edge on the Lake Clark coast in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.

Sandhill Cranes are perennially monogamous. Breeding pairs remain together from year to year, maintaining the pair bond by performing courtship displays, remaining in close proximity and calling together in unison. Breeding pairs form during spring migration.1

This species is noted for its elaborate courtship displays. Five courtship displays have been identified as part of “dancing,” the primary mechanism of pair formation in this species. These displays are the Upright wing stretch, Horizontal head pump, Bow, Vertical leap and Vertical toss. Three courtship displays are used exclusively by paired adults to maintain the pair bond and synchronize reproductive development. These are the Bill up, Copulation and Unison call displays.1


Sandhill Crane In Action

One sandhill crane in flight
Sandhill crane in flight over Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park.

Sandhill Cranes are diurnal (of or during the day) and partially migratory. Northern populations move south during the winter months whereas southern populations remain near the breeding sites year round.1

Cranes are usually found in pairs and family groups. During the migration and winter, family groups may join with non-mated cranes to form survival groups that feed and roost together. These survival groups often congregate at migratory staging areas and on the wintering grounds.1


Where to Spot Sandhill Cranes

a large, long-legged bird standing in tall grass
A sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.

Most Sandhill Crane populations nest in open grasslands, such as wet meadows, and freshwater marshes or bogs. There are six subspecies, and each typically nests in the open, wet grassland habitats of their region.

Sandhill Cranes prefer to be far from human habitation. However, during migration, they are commonly seen feeding on crops and crop residue in agricultural fields. At night they congregate to roost in large marshes.1

In North America, this species breeds as far north as Alaska and the Arctic coast of Canada south into the Great Lakes region and westward across Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. It also breeds in the extreme southeastern United States and Cuba. The winter range of this species includes parts of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Florida and northern Mexico. Populations are also found in northeastern Siberia, Andyrland, and on the Chyukotski peninsula and Wrangel Island.1

The Sandhill Crane can be found in over 44 National Parks and many other National Park Service sites.2 Including:


Sandhill Crane Conservation Status

Sandhill crane on nest on dirt mound in small lake.
Sandhill crane on nest at Floating Island Lake in Yellowstone National Park.

Sandhill Cranes are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act and CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Appendix II. Two subspecies, Grus canadensis nesiotes (Cuba Sandhill Crane) and Grus canadensis pulla (Mississippi Sandhill Crane), are federally endangered in the United States.1

Low reproduction rates limit population recovery in this species, especially by the mid-continent population, which is subject to hunting. Reintroduction of captive-reared birds has been instrumental in maintaining population size. Protection of wetland habitats is also essential for the survival of this species.1

Sandhill Crane and You

Have you seen a Sandhill Crane in it’s natural environment? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Do you have a picture of these amazing creatures? Share it on social media with us and tag us in your post.

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Interested in Wildlife Photography???
Check out this amazing beginners guide from National Geographic:
National Geographic Photo Basics The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Great Photography

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Want tips for photographing wildlife? Check out this great article for tips from the National Park Service.

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‘We got some of the above information from the following:
1: Animal Diversity Web – Ovis Canadensis – Bighorn Sheep
2: NPSpecies – Find Parks Where a Species is Found
3: NPS – Bighorn Sheep in Nebraska

Check out these recent posts from Discover Our Parks:


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