Sandhill Crane: Grus canadensis
Sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) are long-legged, long-necked, gray, heron-like birds with a patch of bald, red skin on top of their head. Cranes fly with necks outstretched like geese, whereas herons fly with necks tucked in on their backs. For positive identification, look for reddish skin on top of the crane's head.
Two subspecies of sandhill crane occur in Florida. The Florida sandhill crane (G. c. pratensis), numbering 4,000 to 5,000, is a non-migratory year-round breeding resident. They are joined every winter by 25,000 migratory greater sandhill cranes (G. c. tabida), the larger of the two subspecies. The greater sandhill crane winters in Florida but nests in the Great Lakes region. Sandhill cranes nest during late winter and spring on mats of vegetation about two feet in diameter and in shallow water.
Two eggs are normally laid. Cranes are monogamous breeders. Within 24 hours of hatching, the young are capable of following their parents away from the nest. Together, they forage for seeds and roots, crop plants such as corn and peanuts, insects, snakes, frogs and occasionally young birds or small mammals.
Cranes are quite omnivorous feeding on seeds, grain, berries, insects, earthworms, mice, small birds, snakes, lizards, frogs, crayfish, but do not "fish" like herons.
Resident sandhill cranes are usually seen in very small groups or pairs. In November and December, however, large flocks of northern cranes move in, more than doubling the population in the state and then leave during March and April. The sandhill crane is a close relative to the nearly extinct whooping crane, which is being reintroduced into the state. Young sandhills weigh about twelve pounds, males are larger than females, but external markings are identical. Cranes live to be older than most birds, some reaching 20 years old.