National Wildlife Week - March 15 -21, 2010
Photograph of Florida Sandhill Crane with Two Newborn Chicks,
By Author’s Den Member William Bonilla
Sandhill Cranes are among the oldest living birds on our planet, and they are an endangered species, today. Fossil records indicate that these large birds have been living in America for millions of years now; and very sadly, their numbers are now dwindling.
There are at least five subspecies of Sandhill Cranes, possibly six, depending on who you ask. Migratory subspecies include the Lesser, Greater, and according to some, the Canadian Sandhill Crane. Non-migratory subspecies are the Florida (pictured above), Mississippi, and Cuban Sandhill Cranes.
Height: - 3 to 4 feet
Weight: - 6 to 12 pounds
Wingspan: - 6 to 7 feet
Lifespan: - 20 to 40 years
Flight Speed & Distance: - 25 - 35 mph: Migrating Cranes typically travel 200 - 300 miles in a day, but they can reach 500 miles in one day with a good tail wind.
Nesting: - For migratory populations of sandhill cranes, nesting begins early April to late May. Non-migratory populations begin in December to early March. Nests are usually low mounds of vegetation located in wetlands, but are occasionally located in uplands. The female typically lays two eggs, with incubation lasting 29 - 32 days.
These magnificent large birds can be found today in both rural and urban areas. The Florida Sandhill Cranes pictured above are year-round residents there, whereas other North American Sandhill Cranes do migrate.
Diet: - Cranes are omnivorous, and they will eat things like seeds, worms, insects, lizards, crayfish, and mice. Sandhill Cranes, like many other types of birds, normally mate for life, and they will lay one or two eggs on their nests, which are very often constructed on the water’s edge for protection from predators.
A crane’s beak and feet are both important tools. The bill is very sharp and sturdy, useful when probing frozen soil. Its edges are serrated to grasp slippery food like worms and snakes. Not only is it used for preening, it is also used as a weapon.
And, their feet and legs work in conjunction with their beaks. The crane’s foot has three long toes with claws on the end. These claws are very sharp, and can be used for scratching in dirt to find food and for protection. When a crane is threatened, it will use its wings to maintain its balance, and then it will jump up and strike at its attacker with its feet. And, a crane is very protective of its young.
An Interesting Crane Fact:
They can stay warm for hours, while standing in freezing water. They are able to do this because cranes can reduce the amount of blood that has to be warmed by constricting the blood vessels in their feet. Also, the arteries and vessels in their legs are right next to each other, so the colder blood is warmed before it reaches the rest of their body.
The Sandhill Crane – a truly wondrous and ancient bird on our planet, and one well worth learning about, especially this week – ‘National Wildlife Week.’
And thanks very much to my good friend William for his marvelous photo of this Florida Sandhill Crane mother and her two adorable newborn babies.
There are less than 5,000 Florida Sandhill Cranes remaining, today; and they are most threatened by our massive modern day habitat destruction. If we hope to save them, as well as many other types of endangered birds today, increased conservation efforts on their behalf will definitely be needed.