Sandhill Cranes (Grus Canadensis pratensis), one the most common cranes in the world, is not commonly found in our area of southern Florida. Being dependent on freshwater marshes as habitat, the coastal, brackish and saltwater wetlands are not suited for this bird species. On occasion there will be sightings of Sandhill Cranes on a golf course or open park area in Collier County, but that is rare. So common that it is worldwide, it is rare down here, especially on Marco Island. Driving northwest to Lake Okeechobee and further up the middle of the state, Sandhill Cranes are easily spotted in winter months. (My favorite location was in a McDonald’s parking lot just outside of Tampa!).
Elegant in stature, gray feathered with a bright, crimson head, the Sandhill Crane is spectacular to watch. (Even when they preen their bodies with mud, making them a dull brown color, the deep red head is easily spotted.) A large bird that can be almost 4 feet in height, weighing up to 14 pounds with a wingspan from 5 to 6 feet, they run, dance and leaphigh in the air! Tossing grass and sticks, the cranes flap their wings and bow.
Apparently these behaviors are not just to attract a mate, but it seems like just for fun! They will do this cavorting year round. Ornithologists believe the leaping and dancing improves motor development and thwarts aggression of other birds and predators.
Omnivores, they sustain themselves by using their long bills to poke in the mud for worms, small invertebrates, reptiles and fish. They will eat vegetation also. If a group of cranes descend on farmland, they can cause damage to crops, as they root around for grain and seeds.
Ranging from Canada and far south as Mexico and Cuba, they are found predominantly in North America. Each winter, the cranes take long migratory flights to winter in southern California, Texas, Utah, Florida and Mexico. En route to their warm winter grounds, about 80% of the migratory population will stop to rest and feed along a 75-mile stretch of the sandy, marshy lands of the banks of the Platte River in Nebraska.
Living to be 20 years of age, it does take this cranetwo to seven years before it produces young. Typically the female will produce two young. The nest is on the ground made of grass and other debris and can be floating or in mud in the marsh habitat. Both the female and male take turns incubating the eggs. The male will protect and defend the nest at all times.
A mating pair will stay together all year eventually migrating as a group with their young back to the northern habitats. A pair will also perform “unison calling”, when they unleash a duel harmonious vocalization, throwing their heads back and calling exuberantly a long song. The call is referred to as “trumpeting” and can be heard for more than a mile away.
Next time you travel north, particularly through the middle of the state, take a look in the open fields and near marshes, you may get a glimpse of the dancing and leaping Sandhill Cranes, one of our nation’s most interesting bird species.
For any additional information please contact Nancy Richie, Environmental Specialist, City of Marco Island at 239-389-5003 or firstname.lastname@example.org