sandies, cranes, Sunday turkey
Six subspecies of sandies exist and make them the most abundant of the world’s cranes. Five subspecies: Greater, lesser, Canadian, Florida, and Cuban although highly monitored are not listed on the endangered species list. It is not uncommon to observe thousands of cranes in northeast Alabama migrating and resting along the Tennessee Valley from October through April. Uncommon in winter and rare in spring and fall in Gulf Coast region. In other regions, common in winter in Tennessee Valley, uncommon to rare in early spring, and fall. Low Conservation Concern. The Mississippi subspecies (G. c. pulla), only found in south Alabama, is listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service.
Standing three to four feet tall with a wingspan 6.5 - 7 feet, the sandhill crane is considered one of North America’s tallest birds. Mature birds are grey while immature are described as pinkish brown. Both mature and young birds sport a red cap beginning above the bill continuing beyond the eye to the crown of the skull.
Once greatly reduced east of the Mississippi river, sandies are more evenly distributed today due to regulations on hunting and protection of habitat. Flocks migrate south from Arctic tundra to winter from California and across all the Gulf States. Most birds over wintering in Alabama can be more commonly found in the Tennessee Valley, along the Alabama River corridor, and coastal counties.
Sandhill cranes inhabit many varied habitats from Arctic tundra to wet prairies. Commonly observed using ponds, lakes, rivers, streams, and freshwater marshes they frequently make use of croplands and salt marshes.
BEHAVIOR & FEEDING HABITS:
Migrating in large flocks, sandhill cranes follow the common waterfowl migration corridors feeding on amphibians, reptiles, insects, and small mammals, as well as fruits, grain, and other plant material. Cranes are spectacular dancers. Both male and female cranes bow, droop their wings, skip, hop, and leap as high as 15 to 20 feet into the air during courtship. Dancing is not confined to breeding or to pairs however and may continue throughout the year. Hundreds of birds may dance at the same time while bugling, making a spectacular sight.
LIFE HISTORY & ECOLOGY:
Sandhill cranes nest on mounds of vegetation, often surrounded by water. The female usually lays two eggs, and young birds stay with their parents for nearly a year. Sandhill cranes have been used to foster parent whooping crane eggs and young for reintroduction of that species.
Audubon’s Birds of America. Popular Edition, the MacMillan Company, New York, 1950. pg.131
Johnsgand Pa. 1983 Cranes of the World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press
Wikimedia.com (BirdLife International 2004),
Alaska Department of Fish & Game.
Stuart Goldsby, Regional Hunter Education Coordinator, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries