A tall, gray bird, the Sandhill Crane prefers open grasslands, meadows, and wetlands and congregates in huge numbers in migration. They do not hunt in open water or hunch their necks the way herons do – they forage for grains, seeds, small vertebrates as well as insects and invertebrates in prairies, grasslands, and marshes.
Canadian sandhill cranes are not widely recognized as a distinct subspecies, as their genetic differentiation from other Sandhill cranes is very minor. Other species can be somewhat more reliably distinguished in hand by measurements and plumage details, apart from the size differences.
When it’s said that Sandhill Cranes form extremely large flocks, they really mean it – flocks into the tens of thousands. On their wintering grounds and during migration, they often fly very high in the sky.
The Sandhill Crane does not breed until it is in between the ages of two to seven years old. They breed in open marshes or bogs and in wet grasslands and meadows. Sandhill cranes can live up to the age of 20 and mated pairs stay together year round and migrate south as a group with their offspring.
Sandhill Cranes are noted for their elaborate courtship displays;two displays are used to form mating pairs while three other displays occur only between mates and serve to maintain the pair bond. They frequently preen with vegetation and mud stained with iron oxide resulting in a reddish brown color rather than their natural gray.
Most species have a specific word they are called when they congregate in great numbers but not the Sandhill Crane. They have many collective nouns including a construction, a dance, a sedge, a siege and a swoop of cranes. They are also the oldest known bird species still surviving – a crane fossil was found that was dated to be approximately ten million years old.