Sandhill cranes are wading birds characterized by long legs, necks, and bills. The sandhill crane ranges between 34 and 38 inches in height and has a six-to seven-foot wingspan. Weight varies from 7.7 to 14.4 pounds according to the sex of the individual bird and the race to which it belongs. Outward appearance of the sexes is alike except in size. The male is slightly larger than the female.
The plumage of the adult sandhill crane is gray with a bald red skin patch on its forehead. Their eyes are yellow and their bill, legs, and feet are blackish. Immature sandhill cranes have a gray body with a brownish head and they lack the red skin patch.
Habitat and Habits
Sandhill cranes are primarily a wetland-dependent species. On their wintering grounds, they will utilize agricultural fields; however, they roost in shallow, standing water or moist bottomlands. On breeding grounds they require a rather large tract of wet meadow, shallow marsh, or bog for nesting.
In flight, the sandhill crane migrates at high elevations in large flocks, often composed of thousands of birds. The flight formation is usually a "V," but sometimes it's a straight line. The birds spend little time gliding and are noted for a quick upward wingbeat and a longer downward wingbeat. Sandhill cranes fly with their necks fully extended and can be distinguished from herons which fly with their necks bent in something of an "S" shape.
Reproduction and Care of the Young
After hatching, the older chick is more aggressive than the younger, and the two must be separated by the parents. The parents will split up and walk in separate directions so that one chick will follow one parent and the other chick the other parent. The precocial young leave the nest in less than 24 hours.
The juveniles fly 90 days after hatching. After fledging, the young remain with their parents throughout the year. The parents will abandon their young cranes just prior to the next nesting season.