Several Sandhill Cranes have made their way to Victory Ranch this Spring. This eye-catching species of crane gets its name from its habitat along the Platte River on the edge of Nebraska’s Sandhills, and it is one of the largest birds in America.
Sandhill Cranes can be found in northern Utah during spring and fall. They rely mostly on open freshwater wetlands, and according to The Nature Conservancy, the degradation of these wetlands habitats is among the most pressing threats to their survival.
Sandhill Cranes are fairly social birds that commonly live in pairs or family groups throughout the year. During migration and winter, unrelated cranes come together to form “survival groups” that forage and roost together. Such groups often congregate at migration and winter sites, sometimes in the thousands.
According to Mark Larese-Casanova of Utah State University, Northern Utah is near the lower end of the sandhill crane’s breeding range, so we’re lucky to see them. They typically arrive to Utah beginning in March, and stay for the summer breeding season.
Sandhill Cranes are mainly herbivorous, but eat various types of food, depending on availability. They often feed with their bills upon the ground, rooting around for seeds and other foods in shallow wetlands with vegetation or various upland habitats. Cranes readily eat cultivated foods such as corn, wheat, cottonseed, and sorghum.
“Sandhill cranes are often heard before they’re seen,” says Larese-Casanova. “Their loud, rolling trumpets fill the air, even for a couple miles. Males and females call in unison, as a loud duet that helps reinforce their pair bond.”
Sandhill Cranes raise one brood per year. In nonmigratory populations, laying occurs between December and August and, in migratory populations, laying usually begins in April or May. Both members of a breeding pair build the nest using plant material from the surrounding area. Nest sites are usually marshes, bogs, or swales, though occasionally on dry land. Females lay one to three (usually two) oval, dull brown eggs with reddish markings. Both parents incubate the eggs for about 30 days. The parents brood the chicks for up to three weeks after hatching, feed them intensively for the first few weeks, and free them once they have reached 9 to 10 months old.