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Adult and chick
Least Concern (IUCN 3.1)
Species: G. canadensis
Grus canadensis canadensis
Grus canadensis pratensis
(F. A. A. Meyer, 1794)
Grus canadensis nesiotes
Bangs & Zappey, 1905
Grus canadensis tabida
(J. L. Peters, 1925)
Grus canadensis rowani (disputed)
Grus canadensis pulla
and see text
Ardea canadensis Linnaeus, 1758
and see text
The Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) is a species of large crane of North America and extreme northeastern Siberia. The common name of this bird references habitat like that at the Platte River, on the edge of Nebraska's Sandhills in the American Midwest. This is the most important stopover area for the nominotypical subspecies, the Lesser Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis canadensis), with up to 450,000 of these birds migrating through annually.
Florida Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis pratensis; adult (behind) and juvenile
Adult is gray overall; during breeding, the plumage is usually much worn and stained, particular in the migratory populations, and looks nearly ochre. The average weight of the larger male is 4.57 kg (10.1 lb), while the average weight of females is 4.02 kg (8.9 lb), with a range of 2.7 to 6.7 kg (6.0 to 15 lb) across the subspecies. The Sandhill Crane has a red forehead, white cheeks and a long dark pointed bill. Its long dark legs trail behind in flight, and the long neck is kept straight in flight. Immature birds have reddish brown upperparts and gray underparts. The sexes look alike. Size varies among the different subspecies; the average height of these birds is around 80 to 120 cm (2.6 to 3.9 ft). The standard linear measurements of the Sandhill are: the wing chord measures 41.8–60 cm (16.5–24 in), the tail is 10–26.4 cm (3.9–10.4 in), the exposed culmen is 6.9–16 cm (2.7–6.3 in) long and the tarsus measures 15.5–26.6 cm (6.1–10.5 in).
This crane frequently gives a loud trumpeting call that suggests a French-style "r" rolled in the throat, and they can be heard from a long distance. Mated pairs of cranes engage in "unison calling." The cranes stand close together, calling in a synchronized and complex duet. The female makes two calls for every single call of the male.
The Sandhill Crane's large wingspan, typically 1.65 to 2.1 m (5.4 to 6.9 ft), makes this a very skilled soaring bird similar in style to hawks and eagles. Utilizing thermals to obtain lift, they can stay aloft for many hours, requiring only occasional flapping of their wings and consequently expending little energy. With migratory flocks containing hundreds of birds, they can create clear outlines of the normally invisible rising columns of air (thermals) that they ride.
Sandhill Cranes fly south for the winter. In their wintering areas they form flocks of over 10,000 birds. One place to observe this is at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, 100 miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. There is an annual Sandhill Crane Festival in November.
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The Sandhill Crane has one of the longest fossil histories of any bird still found today. A 10-million-year-old crane fossil from Nebraska is often cited as being of this species, but this is more likely from a prehistoric relative or the direct ancestor of the Sandhill Crane and may not belong in the genus Grus. The oldest unequivocal Sandhill Crane fossil is 2.5 million years old, over one and a half times older than the earliest remains of most living species of birds, which are primarily found from after the Pliocene/Pleistocene boundary some 1.8 million years ago. As these ancient Sandhill Cranes varied as much in size as the present-day birds, even those Pliocene fossils were sometimes described as new species. Grus haydeni on the other hand may or may not have been a prehistoric relative of the living species, or it may actually comprise material of the Sandhill Crane and its ancestor.
Subspecies and evolution
June 23rd, 2013
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