Sandhill Crane
Grus canadensis

The sandhill crane is one of the largest birds nesting in Lake County. Though endangered in Illinois, nests have been found in Wadsworth Savanna, Almond Marsh and other Lake County Forest Preserves. Flying overhead, its neck stretched out, gliding on powerful wings that span seven feet across, the sandhill crane soars on thermals for hours, traveling up to 600 miles before resting.

The stately wading birds have long black legs, long necks and black chisel-like beaks. Although the adults are mainly gray, they have a distinctive red crown on their forehead. Immature cranes are brown, helping them hide in the tall grass where they nest.

The birds are omnivorous ground feeders, taking advantage of what might be available at various locations and seasons. Their diet includes insects, rodents, frogs, snails, lizards, snakes, berries, seeds, bulbs, the roots of aquatic plants and occasional seashore treats. Such adaptability also attracts them to waste grain in winter farm fields as they migrate north.

Arriving at their nesting grounds in the early spring, the sandhill cranes do an elaborate courtship dance, circling slowly, bowing thier heads to one another, springing up 15-20 feet in the air and whirling around as they leap and call in the meadows. They build simple nests of twigs, moss, dry grass and feathers in the shallow water of marshes and bogs. Usually two eggs are laid and both the male and female cranes take turns incubating them. After 30 days, the eggs hatch. Young cranes are strong enough to migrate south with their parents after only two and a half months.

Although large, the majestic birds may be hard to spot in the grey and brown grasses of the prairies and marshes. Listen for the resonating chorus of shrill, rolling garooo-a-a-a calls as they fly.

Thank you to the Michigan Audubon Society's Baker Sanctuary website for use of their flying crane image.

Sandhill Crane
Sandhill Crane
(Joyce Perbix, photographer)

Copyright 2001-11
Pustelnik Designs and Friends of Ryerson Woods