All About Sandhill Cranes

The Sandhill Crane
by Mary Austin

Whenever the days are cool and clear
The sandhill crane goes walking
Across the field by the flashing weir
Slowly, solemnly stalking.
The little frogs in the tules hear
And jump for their lives when he comes near,
The minnows scuttle away in fear,
When the sandhill crane goes walking.
The field folk know if he comes that way,
Slowly, solemnly stalking,
There is danger and death in the least delay
When the sandhill crane goes walking.
The chipmunks stop in the midst of their play,
The gophers hide in their holes away
And hush, oh, hush! the field mice say,
When the sandhill crane goes walking.

And when the sandhill crane goes flying or dancing, the photographer goes a clicking…

Let’s play a game. Name a more elegant creature to photograph than the Sandhill Crane.

Can’t do it, can you?

Ok, maybe arguably others compare. It’s completely subjective, we know. So what, let’s argue about it! Last month we talked a lot about Bald Eagles. Perhaps we convinced you they are the most elegant?

Seriously, though, we’ve seen the sandhill crane in photographs over the years and it simply never disappoints. Whether in flight silhouetted in a blazing orange sunset, dancing for a mate with its wings spread and head bowed, or seamingly posing for a portrait sporting its classic red crown, the Sandhill Crane beautifully fills the frame.

Why don’t we learn a bit about the Sandhill Crane, and what about the bird makes it so neat. You know how we know its neat? Because of how it is (if you get this reference it’ll be funny. If you don’t get it, you’ll have to just trust us).

The Sandhill Crane is a species of large crane of North America and extreme northeastern Siberia. They are the most common of all the world’s cranes.

Their lifespan is 20 years, wingspan 5’ to 6’ and they weigh between 6.5 lbs and 14 lbs.

And they’ve been around a long time.

A fossil from the Miocene Epoch, some ten million years ago, was found to be structurally the same as the modern sandhill crane.

Sandhill cranes are mainly omnivorous, and feed on land or in shallow marshes where plants grow out of the water, gleaning from the surface and probing with its bill. Its diet is mostly seeds and cultivated grains, but may also include berries, tubers, small vertebrates, and invertebrates. They also enjoy the occasional crops that are in farmland next door to the ponds they typically reside in, safe from predators.

In general, Sandhill Cranes are numerous and their populations have increased between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. The North American Waterbird Conservation Plan lists them as a Species of Low Concern.

Being fairly social birds, they are known for their dancing skills. Courting cranes stretch their wings, pump their heads, bow, and leap into the air in a graceful and energetic dance (Outstanding photographic fodder, by the way). If the dance works, they mate for life and usually live in pairs or family groups through the year. Juveniles stick close by their parents for 9 or 10 months after hatching. During migration and winter, unrelated cranes come together to form “survival groups” that forage and roost together.

Each winter they undertake long southern journeys to wintering grounds in Florida, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Mexico, and California. En route, more than three-fourths of all sandhill cranes use migratory staging areas in a single 75-mile stretch along Nebraska’s Platte River.

New Mexico is a major migration route and winter range for sandhill cranes. The greater sandhill crane, largest of the subspecies, winter along the Middle Rio Grande Valley from Albuquerque to Bosque del Apache.

Kenton Krueger







Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding guiding backpackers, hikers and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks as well as in the Grand Staircase Escalante in southern Utah. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, newspaper photographer and writer. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.

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