What Do Sandhill Cranes Eat? (Diet & Facts)

Cranes may not be a well-known animal in our time, but in the past, they have been the object of veneration in many cultures, as is the case in Japanese culture. Now, you do not have to travel to Japan in order to see a graceful crane since you can watch many examples of sandhill cranes in The United States and Canada.

Sandhill cranes can be considered prehistoric birds, as the species is believed to have arisen more than 2.5 million years ago. Surprising, isn’t it? Then keep reading, because this is not the only thing that will impress you about this majestic animal.

The Physical Characteristics of Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes
Image Credit: freep

Sandhill cranes look like herons because of their legs and long neck, but these are more grayish. These beautiful birds can measure around 1,0 to 1,2 meters in height and have a wingspan of up to two meters.

To these physical traits, we have to add up a striking red crown that stands out because of the contrast with its gray plumage, making it unmistakable among its species. Its grayish feathers can sometimes appear reddish brown, but this is because sandhill cranes groom themselves by rubbing iron-rich mud into their feathers.

The Nature of Sandhill Cranes

One of mother nature’s most beautiful acts is watching sandhill cranes in open plains and marshes. The sandhill cranes love being close to the water and have specific characteristics that make them unique, for example, their call. The call of the sandhill crane is like a trumpet, loud and undulating, unmistakable among bird calls. This particular call is due to their anatomy, as they have a long windpipe that wraps around their sternum, making the sound lower and more harmonious.

In the same manner, this particular breed is also known for their dance abilities, the moves on the dance floor, if I may say, that they use in their courting period. In this later mentioned, sandhill cranes move their heads, extend their wings, incline, jump in the air and throw sticks and herbs into the air in an energetic yet graceful act.

Unlike herons that fly with their necks bent, cranes fly with their necks extended; these also mate for life, starting at two years of age, although some can wait until they have seven years of age in order to reproduce.

It is very striking that crane couples can form pretty close bonds, spending years with their partner until this one dies.

The Distribution, Habitat, and Life Span of Sandhill Cranes

The sandhill cranes live mostly in North America. Its territory is distributed from the entire southern tip of the United States to the northern end of Alaska. In this same mark, there are six subpopulations of cranes, three are migratory, and three are not.

The migratory subpopulations spend winter going south in a zone like Texas, California, Arizona, and New Mexico, and in summer, they go to their mating areas; some of these are Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Idaho, and Alaska.

On the other hand, non-migratory birds remain on the southeastern Mississippi coast. Their preferred habitat is broad grasslands, extensive prairie savannas and ponds, freshwater marshes, and swampy tundras.

What Do Sandhill Cranes Eat?

sandhill cranes
Image Credit: audubon

Sandhill cranes are considered omnivore animals; their diet includes plants and animals. But it is crucial to notice that these kinds of birds are opportunist hunters, so you will see them eating all sorts of things without exemptions. While being in areas with standing water and abundant vegetation, it is common for Sandhill cranes to eat:

  • Plants
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Grains
  • Fruits and crops

When it comes to talking about food, sandhill cranes prefer to have a diet that includes mostly vegetable food; this includes loaf, poultry seeds, corn, wheat, acorns, roots, tubers, sunflower seeds, sorghums, berries, and mushrooms. In addition to this, it is also common for them to supplement their diet with foods such as:

On the other hand, one thing that we have to clarify is that the frequency with which they eat this variety of food will depend on the availability of the food. Not to mention that during the migration season, these birds rely mostly on corn residues to complete their diet.

As a reminder, we have to say that it is essential that we humans do not feed cranes; this can be penalized by the law in many states like Florida; this is due to the fact that sandhill cranes are not like typical backyard birds.

By feeding them, they could become comfortable with humans and associate them with an easy food source. However, as a consequence, it would bring problems to other people and the sandhill crane flocks in general.

What Do Baby Sandhill Cranes Eat?

Crane chicks do not know how to eat when they are born, so they cling to their parents to be fed. This process involves the chicks pecking food from their parents’ beaks. But this stops after two or three months of age when they become entirely independent, able to peck and find food on their own, in the act of trial and error.

In the stage later mentioned, baby cranes are fed mainly by insects, especially if they are in the spring season. Not to mention that they have a high-speed growth, so they need a lot of protein to develop properly. In summer, they will add to their diet some amphibians and mammals, as well as vegetable foods, such as tubers and roots.

How Much do Sandhill Cranes Eat?

Some cranes weigh as much as 7 to 11 pounds, and the bigger ones are up to 15 pounds; quite an impressive weight considering the Canadian crane is a flying bird. For this reason, it is estimated that sandhill cranes can eat large quantities of food.

Some studies show that this bird can consume, during the spring season, a quantity of 400 corn grains per day.

Do Sandhill Cranes Change Their Diet Seasonally?

sandhill cranes
Image Credit: audubon

Yes, mainly migratory subspecies. As mentioned above, sandhill cranes are opportunistic predators, so depending on the location or area, as well as the season, the crane’s diet will adapt to the food that is available to it.

These birds do not select their food when it comes to eating; instead, they take advantage of the opportunities presented to them. That is why their list of common foods ranges from plants to seeds, fruits, and grains and ends with the consumption of insects, rodents, fish, and other animals.

In Conclusion

The sandhill cranes are birds worthy of admiration and care; that is why, if you live in zones where they are common, remember not to feed them, cover the windows of your car so they cannot see their reflection, take preventive measures in order to protect areas exposed to the entry of these animals, and be patient and accept or tolerate a little bit of digging on your garden from your cranes; they are just in search of food, this can even be helpful in eliminating animals such as moles and beetles from your lawn.


Where Do Sandhill Cranes Sleep At Night?

Most cranes sleep at night standing on their feet on the ground in areas where they feel more comfortable, in shallow waters or on a rock; to do this, they stand on their feet or just one foot, alternating feet during the night and get their head and neck above or under the shoulders.

Also, they like to stay asleep on dry floors in areas free of trees, serving as a way to protect themselves from predators. When sleeping in flocks, these birds stand at a pecking distance from each other, which is one of the best options to maintain their safety.

When it is time to take care of their chicks during the mating season, sandhill cranes sleep in their nests or close to them in order to protect their babies from any threat.

Where Do Sandhill Cranes Build Their Nests?

Cranes have high fidelity to their nesting sites, so they will always return to their typical nesting areas after the migratory season. When this happens, they build the nest in the same place or a nearby location. Usually, the female chooses the area, but the site is not known for sure.

Typical nest sites for sandhill cranes are small, isolated wetlands, either marsh, bogs, ponds, or places where there is dominant vegetation, such as reeds, herbs, grasses, or other plant material; the couple gathers the materials and, using more significant plant elements to build their nest, they make a hollow in the shape of a cup, and then cover it with smaller stems and branches.

Do Sandhill Cranes Eat Apples?

Among the foods that cranes can eat are fruits, so yes, sandhill cranes can eat apples, but only if they find them where they are available.

Leave a Comment