Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis)
By Jon Piasecki, Houston Audubon Conservation Technician
Sandhill Cranes are the smaller of the two species of crane native to North America. This species looks similar to their relative, the Whooping Crane, but are much more abundant. In fact, Sandhill Crane populations have been growing by nearly 4% each year since the 1960s. These birds are quite tall with long legs and necks. Sandhill Cranes are gray overall with some tan body feathering and a red crown. Immature birds lack the red crown but have the overall gray body with some tan coloring.
Sandhill Cranes breed throughout the northern half of the continent in places such as Alaska, most of Canada, and the northern part of the U.S. During the winter season, Sandhill Cranes can be found throughout parts of Texas, New Mexico, California, and the northern parts of Mexico. These birds are typically found in open, wet habitats with shrubs and trees. During migration and the nonbreeding season, Sandhill Cranes often group together in large flocks that can reach thousands strong. They tend to eat grains and seeds, but their diet can include a variety of items ranging from berries to small invertebrates.
Sandhill Cranes mate for life and will choose their mate by displaying. These behaviors can include leaping into the air, bowing, and outstretching their wings. After forming a pair or returning to the breeding grounds with their mate, cranes will build a nest in a wetland using surrounding vegetation such as cattails and grasses. Females will lay between 1-3 eggs that can take up to a full month to hatch. The family unit will stick together through fall migration and winter until the following spring when the juveniles depart on their own.
Sandhill Cranes have been seen all around the Houston area this winter including League City and Galveston. These birds will soon start heading on their way north for migration so next time you are near an open field make sure to keep an eye out for large gray birds!
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