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Sandhill Crane
Grus canadensis



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Gruiformes
Family: Gruidae

Physical Characteristics

About 40-48 inches (100-120 cm) tall with a wingspan of 6-7 feet (2-2.33 m). This is a long-legged, long-necked grey bird that is often stained rust. The head features a bald red crown, while the rear features a bustle where the feathers are tufted over the rump. The young colt is brown. In flight, the neck is extended and the wings beat with an upward flick (Peterson, 1990). The bill is 5-6 inches (12-15 cm) long (Ligon, 1961).


Grus canadensis is found on the prairies, in fields and marshes, and on the tundra (Peterson, 1990). Shallow wetlands and agricultural fields are preferred in the non-breeding season (Perrins and Middleton, 1985).

Geographic Range

This species is found primarily from western and central Alaska, northern Yukon, northern Mackenzie, Banks Island, northern Keewatin, southern Devon Island, and Baffin Island south to southern Alaska, Oregon, northeastern California, northeastern Nevada, north-central Utah, southern Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota, southern Minnesota, northern Illinois, southern Michigan, western Ontario, and western Quebec. The Sandhill Crane winters from central California, Sonora, southeastern Arizona, central New Mexico, western and southern texas, the Gulf Coast, and southern Georgia south to northern Baja California, Sinaloa, Jalisco, the state of M‚xico, Distrito Federal, Veracruz, and central Florida (American Ornithologists' Union, 1983).


The Sandhill Crane is omnivorous, eating insects, small fish, and other small animals (Perrins and Middleton, 1985). During the winter, cultivated grains, as well as green sprouts of wheat and corn, are preferred (Leopold, et al., 1981).

Reproductive Characteristics

The nest is a platform in shallow water or in short grass. The female lays one to three white to heavily pigmented eggs. They are incubated for 28-36 days (Forbush and May, 1955). Cranes take several years to mature; when they do, they mate for life. Both the male and female incubate the clutch and defend the brood. Usually only one colt survives; if two survive, it is because each parent is responsible for the feeding, care, and defense of only one colt (Leopold, et al., 1981).


The Sandhill Crane is also known as the Brown Crane, Blue Crane, and Turkey. These birds are extremely fearful of man and will try to flee; however, if unable to escape, they become very aggressive and protective. They are capable of driving their bill through a person's eye and into the brain (Forbush and May, 1955). Some cranes have lived in captivity into their 70s and 80s (Perrins and Middleton, 1985). The voice is a shrill garoo-a-a-a, repeated (Peterson, 1990).

Literature Cited

American Ornithologists' Union. 1983. Check-list of North American birds, 6th ed. Allen Press, Lawrence, 877 pp.

Forbush, E. H., and J. B. May. 1955. A natural history of American birds of eastern and central North America. Bramhall House, New York, 552 pp.

Leopold, A. S., R. J. Gutierrez, M. T. Bronson. 1981. North American game birds and mammals. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 198 pp.

Ligon, J. S. 1961. New Mexico birds and where to find them. The University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 360 pp.

Perrins, C. M. and A. L. A. Middleton, eds. 1985. The encyclopedia of birds. Equinox, Ltd., Oxford, 447 pp.

Peterson, R. T. 1990. A field guide to western birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 432 pp.

Mary Kirschenbaum, July 1996.


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