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Grus canadensis tabida 

Average Length:             34-48 inches (both sexes)


Average Wingspan:         6-7 feet


Average Weight:

Male: 10-14 lbs

Female: 7-10 lbs.


Sexual Maturity:             2-3 years


Breeding Season:           January to May


Incubation Period:         28-31 days


Litter Size:                     1-2; rarely 3



Wild: Largely vegetarian, also grasshoppers, beetles, snakes, frogs, grains, berries

Captive: Commercial game bird pellets



Wild: 12 years

Captive: 24 years


Status in Illinois:          Threatened  


Early settlers called sandhill cranes “preacher birds” because their antics resembled a preacher leading his congregation.  This joyous “dancing” is one of the most remarkable and thrilling sights in the animal world. Dancing cranes bow ceremoniously to each other, bounce into the air as high as 20 feet, hop about from one foot to the other, flap their wings, toss their heads, pirouette, toss sticks into the air, and use many other elaborate gestures.  This “dancing” was once thought to be part of a mating ritual, but since Sandhill Cranes mate for life, there seems no real need for extensive courtship.  These fantastic shows are now believed to take place to enforce social and family bonds, and for communication. 


In conjunction with elaborate ground performances, Sandhill Cranes have varied vocalizations, which they use for communication. A Sandhill Crane's very long trachea allows it to make very loud, very long calls. Animals behaviorists studied these calls and have identified some of these as having specific meaning (i.e.: distress, location, unison, nesting). family and social bonding seem to be an important part of the Sandhill Crane's life.


 A Sandhill Crane’s very long trachea allows it to make very loud, very long calls.  Animal behaviorists have studied these calls and have identified some of these calls as having specific meanings (i.e.: distress, location, unison, nesting).  Family and social bonding seem to be an important part of the Sandhill Crane’s life.


  As mentioned above, Sandhill Cranes mate for life.  As juveniles, cranes will often “date” 3-4 other cranes before settling down with a life mate.  To an experienced onlooker, a crane’s cheeks reveal its relationship status. For unknown reasons, a paired Sandhill Crane almost always has bright white cheeks, while unpaired Sandhill Cranes have gray cheeks.  This feature may help unpaired cranes identify each other.  

  Although on the whole, Sandhill Cranes are peaceful birds, they are well equipped to handle any situation that may arise.  A crane’s wings can deliver powerful blows, much like a pair of fists.  In addition, they have a large wingspan, which can keep potential threats at a safe distance.  A Sandhill Crane’s feet can also act as a powerful weapon.  It’s long legs and very sharp claws also pose a strong threat to intruders or nest robbers, as well as its long pointed beak, which can be used much like a dagger (Sandhill Cranes have remarkable aim with their bill).

  A crane’s long bill not only acts as a weapon, but as a feeding tool.  A Sandhill Crane will probe the ground for grubs and insects, sometimes reaching 4-5 inches below the surface.  The bill is also used to break up larger food items that cannot be swallowed whole.  








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Last modified: February 25, 2021