Sandhill cranes are omnivorous. Seeds, berries and roots are common food items, and, depending on availability, crop plants like corn and wheat grains. They will also eat small animals like rodents, snails, insects, frogs, lizards and nestling birds.
They use their pointed beaks to probe for food in marshy areas. However, unlike herons, they rarely wade into open water and hunt for fish.
Depending on which food resources are available, sandhill cranes will either live in an area year-round or migrate northward in the warmer months to build nests and raise their young.
Once they have identified a potential mate, males will perform a courtship dance, which involves bobbing their heads and jumping in the air. They are monogamous but will find a new mate if their partner dies or leaves.
They typically nest in open wetland areas and build their nests in shallow water. Both parents build the nest together, using nearby plants like cattails and reeds. Females lay between one and three (but usually two) eggs, which are dull brown with brown or gray markings. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs for about a month until the chicks hatch.
Chicks are born with their eyes open and covered in downy feathers. They are ready to walk and leave the nest a day after hatching and are capable of flying after about two months. However, the chicks need nine to 10 months of close parental care before they are ready to live on their own.
Young sandhill cranes fly with their parents during migration. Their large wingspan allows them to soar, conserving energy by coasting along thermal updrafts as opposed to constantly flapping their wings to stay in the air.
Overall, sandhill crane populations have rebounded since their low point in the mid-20th century. However, some local groups and subspecies have been designated as threatened or endangered. Common threats include nest predation, hunting, habitat loss and environmental degradation.
- Reduce, reuse and recycle — in that order! Cut back on single-use goods, and find creative ways to reuse products at the end of their life cycle. Choose recycling over trash when possible.
- Practice ecotourism by being an advocate for the environment when you’re on vacation. During your travels, support, visit or volunteer with organizations that protect wildlife. Shop smart too! Avoid buying products made from animals, which could support poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.
- Organize or attend a stream, river, lake or other waterway cleanup in your area to preserve aquatic habitats for local species.
- Avoid single-use plastics, such as plastic bottles, bags and utensils. Choosing reusable options instead can help reduce plastic pollution.
- Conservation starts with you! Join a citizen science project, such as FrogWatch or Neighborhood Nestwatch, where you can help collect valuable data for scientists. Encourage your friends and family to get involved too.
- Protect local waterways by using fewer pesticides when caring for your garden or lawn. Using fertilizers sparingly, keeping storm drains free of litter and picking up after your pet can also improve watershed health.