How to Identify Sandhill Cranes: A Comprehensive Guide

How to Identify Sandhill Cranes: A Comprehensive Guide

By Akash 8 Min Read

Sandhill cranes are one of the most iconic and most beautiful dancing bird species in North America. They are amazing and known for their majestic size, dancing, graceful flight, and haunting calls. Sandhill cranes also play an important role in the ecosystems they inhabit.

If you are interested in learning how to identify sandhill cranes, this beautifully details blog post is for you.

Here in this blog post, I will provide a comprehensive guide on how to distinguish sandhill cranes from other birds, as well as their physical characteristics and behavior.

Physical Characteristics of Sandhill Cranes

CharacteristicDescription
Size3 to 4 feet (0.9 to 1.2 meters) in height
Wingspan5 to 7 feet (1.5 to 2.1 meters)
Plumage (Adult)Grayish-brown with lighter cheeks, chin, and throat
Plumage (Juvenile)More brownish overall
Head CrestRed crown or “cap” on the head
BillLong and pointed, usually dark or black
LegsLong and grayish, sometimes pinkish
BehaviorLoud, rolling calls; slow, deliberate walk; forages for insects, small vertebrates, seeds, and aquatic plants
Sandhill Cranes RangeNorth America, various habitats including grasslands, wetlands, and agricultural fields
Seasonal VariationPlumage and behavior may vary seasonally
Migratory BehaviorMigratory, with some populations staying year-round in certain areas

Sandhill cranes are large, long-legged birds with long necks and a straight bill. They can grow up to 4 feet with a wingspan of up to 7.5 feet and can weigh up to 15 pounds.

Size and Shape:

  • Sandhill cranes are tall birds, standing about 3 to 4 feet (0.9 to 1.2 meters) in height.
  • They have long legs and necks, giving them a stately and upright appearance.
  • Their wingspan typically ranges from 5 to 7 feet (1.5 to 2.1 meters).

Plumage:

  • Adult sandhill cranes have primarily grayish-brown feathers with a lighter, often whitish, gray on their cheeks, chin, and throat.
  • They have a distinctive red crown or “cap” on their heads, which is more visible when they are calling or in certain lighting conditions.
  • Juvenile cranes tend to have more brownish plumage overall.

Bill and Legs:

Sandhill cranes have long, pointed bills that are mostly dark in color, often appearing black. Their legs are typically long and grayish, sometimes with a pinkish hue.

The most important thing to identify them is they have gray plumage with a white head and neck. They also have red crowns and lores, and dark gray legs.

Key Differences Between Sandhill Cranes and Whooping Cranes

Differences Between Sandhill Cranes and Whooping Cranes

Here is a table that summarizes the key differences between sandhill cranes and whooping cranes:

CharacteristicSandhill CraneWhooping Crane
SizeLarger: 3 to 4 feet (0.9 to 1.2 meters) in heightSmaller: About 5 feet (1.5 meters) in height
Wingspan5 to 7 feet (1.5 to 2.1 meters)About 7.5 feet (2.3 meters)
Plumage (Adult)Gray with lighter cheeks, chin, and throatWhite with black wingtips and a red cap on the head
Plumage (Juvenile)More brownish overallBrownish-gray with patches of white
Head CrestRed crown on the headDistinctive red cap on the head
BillLong and pointed, usually dark or blackLong and pointed, usually black
LegsLong and grayish, sometimes pinkishLong and black
BehaviorLoud, rolling calls; forages in various habitatsMore vocal with trumpet-like calls; prefers coastal areas
RangeNorth America, various habitats including wetlands, grasslands, and agricultural fieldsNorth America, mainly coastal areas and marshes
Seasonal VariationPlumage and behavior may vary seasonallyPlumage and behavior can also vary seasonally
Migratory BehaviorMigratory with some populations staying year-round in specific areasMigratory with limited populations staying year-round

Habitat and behavior of Sandhill Cranes

We all know that sandhill cranes are mostly found in a variety of habitats including wetlands, grasslands, and agricultural fields.

They are social birds and are often flying in large flocks. Sandhill cranes are known for their loud, trumpeting calls.

How to Distinguish Sandhill Cranes from Other Birds

You can easily distinguish sandhill cranes from other birds by their nesting, size, plumage, and habitat. They are larger than other common cranes, such as the whooping crane.

Sandhill cranes have gray plumage while whooping cranes have white plumage. Sandhill cranes are more likely to be found in wetlands and grasslands, white whooping cranes are more likely to be found in coastal areas.

Additional Tips to Identify Sandhill Cranes

Here are some additional tips for distinguishing sandhill cranes from other birds:

  • Sandhill cranes have a distinctive flight pattern. They often fly with their necks outstretched and their legs trailing behind them.
  • Sandhill cranes have a long, pointed bill.
  • Sandhill cranes have a reddish-brown patch on the back of their heads.
  • Sandhill cranes have long, gray legs.

Where to See Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill cranes are found throughout North America, from Canada to Mexico. They are particularly common in the Midwest and Great Plains regions of the United States. Some popular places to see sandhill cranes include:

  • National parks, such as Jasper National Park in Canada and Yellowstone National Park in the United States
  • Wildlife refuges, such as Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska and Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico
  • Agricultural fields, such as corn and wheat fields in the Midwest
  • Wetlands, such as marshes and swamps

Tips for Photographing Sandhill Cranes

Photographing Sandhill Cranes
Image: Photographing Tips for Sandhill Cranes

If you are interested in photographing sandhill cranes, here are a few tips:

  • Use a telephoto lens. This will allow you to get close-up photos of the birds without disturbing them.
  • Be patient. Sandhill cranes can be wary of people, so it is important to be patient and wait for them to come to you.
  • Use a tripod. This will help you to keep your camera steady and take sharp photos.
  • Shoot early in the morning or late in the evening. This is when the light is best for photography.

Conclusion

Sandhill cranes are amazing birds that are worth learning how to identify. By following the tips in this blog post, you will be well on your way to spotting and photographing these majestic creatures.

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By Akash
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My name is Akash (AB). I am a 22-year-old student. I love birds so much. I created this website to provide better and quality information about Crane species. You know there are 15 Crane species in the world right now. I started a path to introduce you to Cranes one by one. My another website about bird species is: birdspecies.org
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