Sandhill Cranes are large, rusty-winged grey birds with long necks, white chins, and red crowns. They have long, dark bills used for finding food amongst the mud, and their backsides are covered in a tuft of grey feathers. They have a large wingspan averaging close to 2 metres (6’3”), and weigh over 4.5 kg (10 lbs) as an adult.
They are sometimes compared with the Great Blue Heron, which is of similar size and shape however, a crane can be distinguished in flight because it holds its head out forward instead of hugged into its body as a heron would, and it takes a few steps along the ground before taking off. The crane’s voice is similar to that of a wooden rattle.
The Greater Sandhill Crane is the subspecies which resides in Delta, while Lesser Sandhill Cranes migrate through. They can be distinguished by size and length of the bill; the Greater subspecies being the larger bird, with a bill up to 50% longer than the Lesser subspecies.
Sandhill Cranes inhabit open fields and meadows where they often congregate in large flocks to feed and nest. They are opportunistic feeders, foraging on both plant and animal life. Local grains are important for Sandhill Cranes, especially during their fall and spring migrations where they will stop-over and feed on farm fields including Winter Cover Crops, sometimes even becoming intoxicated by the fermented grain.
They mate for life and, though they can live up to 20 years of age, they only begin mating between the ages of 2-7 years. Their mating experience is an especially unique one and is quite a show if you ever get the chance to see it. Males and females partake in an elaborate dance which includes high jumps while flapping their wings and head bows and swings, sometimes they will pick up objects and throw them up into the air. The photo above is of a courtship display. Even more of an amazing sight is when the dance becomes contagious and a whole flock joins in on the mating dance.