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

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Sandhill Crane, adults.
Figure 1. Distribution of Sandhill Cranes in North America.

Sandhill Cranes are heavy bodied, long-necked, long-legged birds of open grasslands and freshwater marshes. Noted for their distinctive, penetrating bugling calls, often heard well before the birds are seen, and for their elaborate courtship dancing, they are among the oldest living birds. Six subspecies have been described, three nonmigratory. This species nests in Siberia, Alaska, and northern Canada, in states around the Great Lakes, westward across Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon, and in the southeastern United States to Cuba and the Isle of Pines. Most Sandhill Crane populations are now stable or increasing in size, including the mid-continent population that is hunted. Their wing stroke pattern, with a snapping upstroke and slower downstroke, differentiates cranes from other long-legged, long-necked birds.

Sandhill Cranes do not breed until they are 2 to 7 years old, depending on subspecies and population. They are perennially monogamous and provide extended biparental care of their young, families usually staying together 9 to 10 months (Tacha 1988, Nesbitt 1992). They are normally long-lived (up to 20+ years) and lay 2-egg clutches once a year, but rarely raise more than one young to fledging. Their primary social units are pairs and families that combine (in migratory populations) into large, socially unstable flocks during migration and wintering periods. These flocks often concentrate at migratory staging areas and on the wintering grounds, making this species particularly vulnerable to loss of strategic wetlands.