Sandhill Crane

Walter Colvin

Showlow, United States

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3d art render of a Sandhill Crane

Made with bryce 3d, and Ken Gilliland’s SongBird Rimix, ShoreBirds volume 1, Wading Birds.
Some post work with photoshop

The Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) is a large crane of North America and extreme northeastern Siberia. The common name of this bird references habitat like that at the Platte River, on the edge of Nebraska’s Sandhills in the American midwest. This is the most important stopover area for the Lesser Sandhill Crane, (Grus canadensis canadensis), with up to 450,000 of these birds migrating through annually.

Adults are gray overall; during breeding, the plumage is usually much worn and stained, particularly in the migratory populations, and looks nearly ochre. The sandhill crane has a red forehead, white cheeks and a long dark pointed bill. Its long dark legs trail behind in flight, and the long neck is kept straight in flight. Immature birds have reddish brown upperparts and gray underparts. The sexes look alike. Size varies among the different subspecies. This crane frequently gives a loud trumpeting call that suggests a French-style “r” rolled in the throat, and they can be heard from a long distance.

Mated pairs of cranes engage in “unison calling.” The cranes stand close together, calling in a synchronized and complex duet. The female makes two calls for every single call of the male.

The only other large grayish-bodied bird of North America is the Great Blue Heron. This heron is of similar dimensions to the Sandhill Crane and is sometimes mistakenly called a crane, even though it is very different in plumage details and build. Like other herons, it flies with its neck tucked toward the body.

The sandhill crane’s large wingspan, which is 6-8 feet when fully grown, makes this a very skilled soaring bird similar in style to hawks and eagles. Utilizing thermals to obtain lift, they can stay aloft for many hours, requiring only occasional flapping of their wings and consequently expending little energy. With migratory flocks containing hundreds of birds, they can create clear outlines of the normally invisible rising columns of air (thermals) that they ride.

It has been said that Sandhill Cranes have been spotted devouring their young if the parents recognize weakness in a young bird. This seems unlikely. Cranes do devour the young of other species, like ducklings, especially when they are raising crane colts. However, cranes are gentle to their own injured colts and attentive to the corpses of their young.

The Sandhill Crane flies south for the winter. In their wintering areas they form flocks of over 10,000 birds. One place to observe this is at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, 100 miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Just before Thanksgiving every year there is a Sandhill Crane Festival there. Use a search engine and get the information and go to this natural wonder.

Their breeding habitat is marshes and bogs in central and northern Canada, Alaska, part of the midwestern and southeastern United States, Siberia and Cuba. They nest in marsh vegetation or on the ground close to water. The female lays two eggs on a mound of vegetation, but it is rare that both chicks hatch and grow to independence. Cranes mate for life; both parents feed the young, called “colts”, who are soon able to feed themselves. The colts are taught to fly over many weeks when they run and dance with their parents. Dancing is a significant component in the education of young cranes.10 The Sandhill Crane does not breed until it is two to seven years old, and the average generation time is 12.5 years. It can live up to 25 years in the wild; in captivity it has been known to live more than twice that span. Mated pairs stay together year-round and migrate south as a group with their offspring.

Eggs and nestling cranes are eaten by crows, ravens, canids, hawks, eagles, and raccoons. Adult cranes are preyed on by foxes, coyotes, eagles, wolves, bobcats, and large owls. When approached by an avian predator, sandhill cranes will fly at the predator, kicking at it with their feet. When aware of a mammalian predator, sandhill cranes move toward the predator with their wings spread and their bill pointed at the predator. If the predator persists, sandhill cranes will attack, hissing, stabbing with their bills and kicking with their feet. The cranes tend to be more aggressive while protecting their young. Mammalian predators are generally more likely to prey on adult cranes while they are distracted by nesting

These birds forage while walking in shallow water or in fields, sometimes probing with their bills. They are omnivorous, eating insects, aquatic plants and animals, rodents, seeds and berries. Outside of the nesting season, they forage in large flocks, often in cultivated areas. In many western states and provinces of Canada, Sandhill Cranes are hunted during waterfowl seasons. The meat is reportedly among the better-tasting gamebirds.

The Florida subspecies is often seen in residential yards, and these birds seem little afraid of human approach. These visitors will eat shelled corn and commercially purchased bird seed from the ground and from feeders. They may be seen in yards in north-central Florida virtually year-round, often in pairs that may be accompanied by a juvenile. Myakka River State Park, just 50 miles south of Tampa, is a wonderful site to observe them although all around central Florida you may see them in empty farm fields from November to February.

Though the Sandhill Crane is not considered threatened as a species, the three southernmost subspecies are quite rare. While the migratory birds could at least choose secure breeding habitat, the resident populations could not, and many subpopulations were destroyed by hunting or habitat change. However, initially the Greater Sandhill crane proper suffered most from persecution; by 1940 probably fewer than 1,000 birds remained. They have since increased greatly again, though with nearly 100,000 individuals they are still less plentiful than the Lesser Sandhill Crane, which numbers over 400,000 individuals, making the species the most plentiful crane alive today.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Artwork Comments

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