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Sandhill Crane
Grus canadensis
– Family
Authors: Tacha, T. C., S. A. Nesbitt, and P. A. Vohs

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Figure 1. Distribution of Sandhill Cranes in North America.

Aou Check-List Region

Breeding Range

From w. and c. Alaska to Baffin Island, south from Mackenzie to s. British Columbia, ne. California to Colorado, and the Dakotas to Michigan; also se. U.S. from Florida to s. Mississippi and s. Georgia. See Fig. 1 .

Wintering Range

Central California, se. Arizona, c. New Mexico, w. and s-c. Texas, scattered areas of the Gulf Coast and s. Georgia to peninsular Florida, and n. Baja California, Sinaloa, Jalisco, Chihuahua, Durango, and Veracrus, Mexico. See Figure 1 .

Range Outside Aou Check-List Region

Nests in ne. Siberia in e. Anadyrland. Recorded from Chyukotski Peninsula, Wrangel Island, and coast of Arctic Ocean west to the Yana River drainage (Labutin and Degryavev 1988), and in w. Cuba and the Isle of Pines.

Historical Changes In Distribution

Breeding range in North America formerly more extensive, extending south to Arizona, Baja California in Mexico, and nw. and c. Mexico; also in Illinois and n. Ohio.

Fossil History

The earliest fossil record for G. canadensis is from the late Blancan NALMA (2.5 mybp [million years before present]), Macasphalt Shell Pit in Sarasota Co., FL (Emslie 1992:263). Fossils are in the size range of the living subspecies G. c. canadensis . Pleistocene (1.8 mybp) and prehistoric records for G. canadensis are numerous, with a broad geographic distribution from Alaska to Mexico and from San Miguel Is., CA to Florida (Brodkorb 1967:152, Campbell 1980:127, Emslie 1985:72, Emslie and Heaton 1987:56, Guthrie 1980:692, Lundelius et al. 1983:328, Parmalee 1977:196 and 1992:313).

The earliest fossil crane in the genus Grus is G. conferta (Miller and Sibley 1942:126) from the late Clarendonian NALMA (9-10 mybp), Contra Costa Co., CA. It was the size of G. canadensis but Olsen (1985:164) has questioned if it belongs in Grus . Also late Clarendonian are two unnamed Grus species from the Love Bone Bed, Alachua Co., FL (Becker 1987:165). One species was the size of G. canadensis while the other was equal to G. americana . Next is Grus nannodes (Wetmore and Martin 1930:62) from the late Hemphillian NALMA (4.5 to 6 mybp), Sherman Co., w. KS; known only from the holotype, a partial carpometacarpus that is smaller than G. c. canadensis . From Lee Creek, Beaufort Co., NC, also late Hemphillian, are two undescribed fossil species, one the size of G. canadensis, one bigger, the size of the Sarus Crane, G. antigone, of se. Asia, the largest living crane (Bickart 1990:44). Finally, O. C. Marsh in 1870 named G. haydeni from “late Tertiary beds” along the Niobrara River, NE, based on the distal end of a tibiotarsus. Both Wetmore (1928:4) and Brodkorb (1967:153) considered considered G. haydeni a synonym of G. canadensis and a Pleistocene record. Recently, in his study of the fossil birds from the Big Sandy Formation, late Hemphillian, Mohave Co., AZ, Bickart (1990:43) resurrected G. haydeni and reported it from the Big Sandy paleo-avifauna. If true, this would extend this species back in geologic time almost 3 million years. Our understanding of G. haydeni and other fossil crane species would benefit greatly from a comprehensive review and a rigorous phylogenetic analysis.