Range & Habitat
Sandhill Cranes winter in northern Mexico, Texas and New Mexico. In February, they migrate to the Platte River in Nebraska. They mate and lay their eggs in the Arctic Tundra every year. Their habitat consists of lowland tundra, marshes, shorelines of rivers, lakes and coastal areas and grassy slopes.
Sandhill Cranes have long legs with long, skinny toes to facilitate wading on mud flats in the water. The crane has a long skinny beak for fishing and spearing their prey. Cranes can find food as much as five inches underground. When migrating to the Platte River they make the 600 mile trip in one nonstop flight of 12 hours. With southerly winds the cranes may average 50 miles an hour. They stay a few weeks to fatten up and store nutrients needed to form eggs and embryos before they continue north to the Arctic tundra where they mate and lay their eggs.
The crane mating dance is one of the great marvels of nature. A series of bows and stick tosses, mixed with hops and leaps, is the basis for many Sandhill dances. Dancing performs several social functions. Cranes also have several distinctive sexually dimorphous vocalizations. The most important of the adult calls is the unison call. It strengthens pair bonds, denotes territory and synchronizes the cranes sexual development. Sandhill Cranes have been used to incubate whooping crane eggs to provide them with a better chance at survival.
Reproduction & Growth
Cranes are monogamous. During breeding season in the Arctic tundra they establish and defend a breeding territory. They require large areas of shallow water, isolation from human activity and dry uplands nearby. They lay eggs in two egg clutches. The eggs are laid 2-3 days apart. They are buff or olive with brown or lilac spots. Incubation begins when the first egg is laid. As a result of the "asynchronous" incubation the first chick hatches a day or two before the second one. Often the older and stronger chick will bully the younger, weaker ones who run off and perish. Incubation lasts from 28-32 days with both male and female incubating the eggs. The hatchlings are fed some of their eggshell by their parents. They are precocious and within six hours they leave the nest for a short distance. They even swim soon after hatching. Their flight feathers are developed between 2-4 months. The chicks remain with their parents until the next breeding season. Then they are driven off by their parents and form "bachelor" flocks.
In the Wild: Roots, tubers, some fruits and young vegetables, small fish, amphibians, crustaceans, insects, seeds and small animals. In the Zoo: Crane diet, smelt, mixed vegetables and peanuts.