The sandhill crane, or "sandhill," is among Minnesota's largest bird species, standing about five feet tall and having a wingspread of nearly seven feet. Sandhills are birds of wet meadows and open landscapes. They migrate south for the winter.
General description: The sandhill crane is distinctive in all respects. Its flight is graceful, it stands erect when feeding in a field or marsh, and it's echoing call is unforgettable.
Length: About four feet, and even longer in flight with both its neck and long legs extended.
Weight: Adults weigh five to eight pounds.
Color: : Mainly gray, except for a white face and distinctive red crown. The young are brown.
Adults have a distinctive bowing courtship ritual. Females lay two eggs in a nest built of grasses and other vegetation on the ground or in shallow water. Both sexes care for and defend the young.
Sandhills eat a variety of animals including frogs, small mammals, insects, and snakes, and also, small grains such as oats and wheat. Sometimes sandhills destroy small grain swaths while feeding, much to the farmer's dislike.
Because the sandhill is so large and formidable, few predators even try to catch one. Tough predators like great-horned owls may try for a young sandhill.
Sandhill cranes are "circumpolar" in distribution, meaning that they live in the far northern parts of more than one continent, such as North America and northern Europe. In central and northern Minnesota, sandhills spend spring through autumn in large open meadows and farm fields.
Sandhill cranes are a protected species in Minnesota, but it is legal to hunt them in part of northern Minnesota during the sandhill crane hunting season each year.
Sandhill cranes are closely related to the federally endangered whooping crane. Sandhills have been used in migration experiments guiding young whooping cranes to wintering areas in the southern U. S. Perhaps our local sandhill cranes will someday be credited with saving an endangered species!