Find the best places to hunt Cranes in Canada and discover the Cranes' Physical Description, Range, Habitat, Food Source, Breeding Habits, and Status. 

Sandhill crane, Grus canadensis LC

Range - Distribution and Habitat of the Sandhill Crane:

Sandhill Crane Breeding Range in Canada

Sandhill Range Map of Canada

Original map of canada: By Nzeemin [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Modified By:

The Sandhill Crane is a native migrating bird that nests in Canada. Its nesting sites can be found in the Territories of the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. It also establishes nesting sites in the province of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. This nesting range can be as far north as Baffin Island and can extend all the way to the Canada – US border.

Six subspecies of the Sandhill Crane have been acknowledged:


Lesser Sandhill Crane, G. c. canadensis

The breeding grounds of the Lesser Sandhill Crane are in the in the Arctic of western Alaska and northern Canada. It nests on many of the Arctic Islands and parts of the watersheds of Hudson Bay in northern and western Ontario. Its’ wintering grounds extend are in the southern state of California, New Mexico’s eastside, western and south-eastern Texas and on down into Mexico.

The Cuban Sandhill Crane, G. c. nesiotes

Is a non-migratory endangered subgroup that is only found on the island of Cuba and some of its neighbouring islands.

The Florida Sandhill Crane, G. c. pratensis

Is another non-migratory endangered crane that resides in Florida and Georgia

Mississippi Sandhill Crane, G. c. pulla

Is a non-migratory endangered species that is only found in Jackson County, Mississippi.

Canadian Sandhill Crane, G. c. rowani

Because of the potential for the Canadian Sandhill Crane to interbreed with the Lesser Sandhill Cranes and the Greater Sandhill Cranes. Defining the exact range of this species is tough to do. The belief is that it nests and breeds in Canada’s sub arctic from northern Ontario westward to British Columbia. Migrating cranes from the eastern side of its’ range winter mainly in coastal Texas. It is thought that the western population of the Canadian Sandhill Crane winters in California, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico.

Greater Sandhill Crane, G. c. tabida

The Greater Sandhill Crane has five populations of nesting cranes that nest in southern Canada from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Ocean. Out of these five populations only the Eastern and Prairie Population have a representation in Canada.

  • The eastern population is found in southern Ontario and winters in southern Georgia and central Florida.
  • The Prairie population can be found in south-western Ontario and in southern Manitoba. It winters along the Texas coastline of the Gulf of Mexico.
  • The Rocky Mountain, Central Valley, and Colorado River Valley populations are absent from Canada.

The Sandhill Crane has a tendency to return to the same nesting sites (give or take 1,300 ft. [400 m.]) year after year. They are also quite territorial of their nesting site and like to have a fair distance between themselves and the next breeding pair. The crane will maintain its breeding territory from other cranes of the same species by patrolling its territorial boundaries and bluff-charged any Sandhill Cranes that trespasses. Although it is not the norm, it is not uncommon for nesting cranes to be a mile apart.

The size of a Sandhill Cranes’ home range will depend upon a lot or varying factors. Like the subspecies, its proximity to its food source, the vegetative cover about its nesting grounds, water depth, human activity, and the season.

Nesting Habitat

The Sandhill Crane prefers a nesting site far from human development like bridges, paved roads and houses. The site also needs to have some sort of swamp, marsh, muskeg, bog, or fen for nesting in. It also seeks out an open feeding area close by that could consist of grassland, agricultural field, or low-density forest with plenty of sunlight and limited shade. This type of open habitat allows them to forage and see predators approaching.

Nests within the habitat chosen will likely be constructed in sedges, Baltic or Hardstem bulrushes, grasses, broadleaf and narrow-leaved cattail or common reeds and contain open water that surrounds the vegetation in which the nest is constructed.

Migrational Movements.

Weather conditions and foraging conditions seem to play a prominent role in determining the start of the migration in that a colder weather condition that causes ice to form on the water or a lack of foraging material may trigger the formation of a flock of Sandhills for migration.

If weather conditions are clear and a migrating flock has good tailwinds, it may bypass a favoured staging area and continue onto the next area. Also, flocks on a layover in a staging area may forgo flight if heavy rainfalls, fog, strong headwinds, or heavy cloud cover exists.

The return of flocks of Sandhill cranes can be triggered by warming weather conditions in the wintering grounds. 

The Sandhill crane may make its migration run either day or night but most flights are done during the day. Flocks of Sandhill Cranes can number in the hundreds but in staging grounds they can form a flock of over 10,000 individuals.

The normal flight altitude is about 906.2 (276.2m.) during springtime flights and 526.9 ft. (160.6 m.) during fall flights. However, the Sandhill is capable of high altitude flights in that some Rocky Mountain populations have been recorded to be flying at elevations of 12,100 to 13,100 ft. (3,700 to 4,000 m.). Flight velocities normally range from 32 to 35 miles per hour (29 to 54 km per hour) and traveling distances can range from as little as 40 miles (60 km.) to as high as 342 miles (550 km.) in a single day. These distances covered by a migrating flock seem to be governed by the species, the local of where it is coming from and weather conditions on the day of flight. Naturally the best flight times and longest flights occur on days that are sunny, the skies are clear, and the winds come from the northwest.

The Sandhill likes to return to staging areas that it has used in the past. Here they are often seen foraging on standing agricultural crops or the remains of a harvested crop. Like geese, the presence of a flock on the ground foraging can incite a flock in flight to set down at that location.

Description of Sandhill Crane:

Sandhill Crane on nest

Sandhill Crane
Photo of Sandhill Crane by: Nigel - Flickr

The Sandhill crane is a large bird and other than size. Both males and female members of the species look the same but males are larger than females..

Physical attributes are that it has a large body, long legs, long neck, and long bills.

As far as colour goes, one of its most distinguishing features is its white head with a red featherless crown that is on its forehead and a white cheek patch. Normally the bird sports an all natural slate grey plumage but during the mating season adults will have patches of rust coloured plumage over parts of its body. This rust colour is not natural but actually comes from the crane preening itself with pieces of wet, decaying marsh vegetation. This marsh debris stains the tips of the feathers and will later disappear as the crane moults its feathers following the breeding season. The upper parts of a juvenile are reddish-brown upper parts while its under parts are grey in colour. Also the juvenile bird has rusty brown coloured  plumage on its forehead where the adult displays its red crown.

The size and weight of a Sandhill Crane will vary according to its subspecies.

  • The Sandhill crane’s weight will average from 6.0 to 14.8 lb. (2.7 to 6.7 kg).
  • Males average 10.1 lb. (4.57 kg.).
  • Females average 8.9 lb. (4.02 kg.).
  • Their height is about 31 to 48 in. (80 to 122 cm.).
  • Their tail is around 3.9 to 10.4 in. (10 to 26.4 cm.)
  • The bill is 2.7 to 6.3 in. (6.9 to 16 cm.) long.
  • It is 16.5 to 23.6 in. (41.8 to 60 cm.) from the wrist joint to the most prominent point of the longest primary feather.
  • And it has a long wingspan of 65 to 79 ins. (165 to 230 cm.)

While in flight the legs of the Sandhill Crane appear to be long and dark. They also appear to  have a long straight necks where as the blue heron’s neck is in an “S” shape while in flight. The movement of their wings is very distinguishable in that it has a slow downward beat followed by a quick flick upward.

The Sandhill Crane expresses its emotions through its body postures and through vocalizations and are used both for mating rituals and to fend off would be predators. When a bird of prey approaches the Sandhill will fly at it and kick it with its feet. For terrestrial predators the Sandhill will outstretch its wings and run at the predator with it bill pointed at the predator and even gain what looks to be semi flight while doing so. Mating is displayed through a series of moves where it repeatedly jumps with it wings spread. These movements are accompanied by bows and even crouches.

Experts have noted that the Sandhill has over a dozen calls that consist of hisses, trills, purrs, and rattles. These calls are also used to communicate threats, warnings, the crane’s social presence and continual bonding of pairs.

Diet and Foraging Strategy of the Sandhill Crane:

The Sandhill is an omnivorous bird that forages for food in meadows, pastures and fields or in shallow marshes during daylight hours. It looks for food that is located on the surface of the ground or they probe under the visible ground surface with their long bills in search of either animal or plant matter.

What they consume will depend upon what is readily available, the season, and its location.

Animal matter may be an adult or larval beetle, amphibian, bird, bird’s egg, carrion, crayfish, earthworm, fish, insect, lemming, lizard, mollusc, mouse, reptile, snail, snake, snails, or vole.

  • Insects that it will eat are butterflies, crickets, flies, grasshoppers, and moths .
  • Even larger nesting birds like the willow ptarmigan, snow geese, shorebirds, and ducks are not immune to predation by the Sandhill crane as it will target its young and or eggs when these birds are nesting.
  • Carrion was a surprise to me but once I thought about it. I can see where the Sandhill Crane may steal meat scraps from an Arctic fox den, scavenge a caribou carcass, or eat fish scraps left by fishermen.

Plant material that will consume may consist of berries, grains, fruits, nuts, roots, seeds, and tubers.

Agricultural grains like corn, wheat and sorghum are consumed when and if they become available in their local.

Breeding and Reproduction of the Sandhill Crane:

Sandhill Crane Chick - 3 days old

Sandhill chick
Photo by Nigel - Flickr

The Sandhill Cranes may mate for life but in reality it is only monogamous on a yearly basis. The pairing process is one that may 2 year olds may participate in but normally the cranes in Canada are 5 or 6 years old before it mates for the first time. Of particular note, young Sandhills are often recruited into pairing by other Sandhills that were greater than 8 years of age.

Mated pairs will remain together year to year and maintain their bond through acts of courtship display, remaining in close proximity and through their calls to each other. The pairing process is done during the spring migration when they arrive on the breeding grounds. In the provinces of Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba the nesting date could be from the 11th of April to July the 1st with the average date being that of May 26th.

The Sandhill has five elaborate courtship displays called a “Dance” with which it tries to attract and maintain a bond with. The Five courtship displays are referred to as the Upright wing stretch, Horizontal head pump, Bow, Vertical leap and Vertical toss. These displays are the main means in which the pair bond. There are three additional displays that are used only by paired cranes and those are the Bill up, Copulation and Unison call displays.

After completing the “dance” mated pair will collectively build a nest located near open water in a grassy area. The nest is will be made of what ever loose plant material is handy (normally a grass of some sort) and will be heaped 5 feet across.

The female will then lay a clutch of 1 to 3 eggs at 24- to 48-hour intervals, with 2 eggs being the norm size of the clutch. The eggs oval in shape and have a dull brown surface with reddish brown markings This will be the pairs only brood of the year and it will take 28 to 31 days for the eggs to incubate. This task is performed by both members of the pairing who rarely leave the nest alone.

When hatching begins it take 24 to 36 hours for the process to complete. In Alberta the normal hatching dates range from May 29th to June 8th. New born chicks are covered in down when they hatch. Their eyes are open and they are capable of walking and swimming outside of the confines of the nest within 24 hours. For the next 3 weeks the parents will continue to sit on them to keep them warm and feed them.

The chicks are able to fly by mid-July and will accompany their parent on foraging expeditions where they feed on tubers worms, grasshoppers, snails, frogs, seeds, snakes, small birds and mice. The youngsters are fed at a steadily decreasing pace until they are 9 to 10 months old and they are getting food without parental help. It is at this time that the juveniles are ready to be independent on their own.

They will then join other juveniles in a flock until they are 2 to 7 years of age and are mature enough to mate.

The oldest known Sandhill Crane on record was 21.6 years of age but the average is a lot less than that at seven years.

Status of Sandhill Crane:

The Sandhill Crane was listed on the Red List as a species of least concern (2012). Justification for this listing status is because it has an extremely large range and its population of several hundred thousand. has indicators of increasing.

Despite the size and mobility of an adult Sandhill crane its main predation threat come from predation by land based mammals and other birds. The chicks and or eggs are the primary target of the predators and these mortality rates sometimes drop in years when alternate sources of prey are abundant.

Terrestrial predators can include Arctic foxes, Coyotes, Black bears, Bobcats, Domestic dogs, Domestic cats, Foxes, Gray wolves, Grizzly bears, Northern river otters, and Raccoons,

Avian Predators may be an American crow, Bald eagle, Common raven, Cooper's hawk, Falcon, Golden eagle, Great horned owl, Northern harrier, Osprey, or Red-tailed hawk.

Other forms of mortality may be from collisions with power lines, illegal shooting, or vehicular collisions.

Even large flocks of Sandhills are at risk. This may come in the form of avian cholera or botulism. Deaths can also come from unintentional poisoning through eating mouldy or waste crops while in migration. 


Whooping crane, Grus americana EN

Range - Distribution and Habitat of the Whooping Crane:

Whooping Crane Nesting Range in Canada

Whooping Crane Nesting Range Map of Canada

Original map of canada: By Nzeemin [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Modified By:

The Whooping crane once had a large range in North America but today it is a highly endangered species that make its home in the vicinity of Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta, Canada. Here is where the only known breeding population of about 220 individuals nest. Work is being done to reintroduce nesting Whooping cranes into Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin, USA. Although a pair has nested here naturally it is too early to determine if this project is a success.

For the winter, the breeding population of Wood Buffalo National Park migrate down to the vicinity of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas and winter along the Gulf coast there.

Their migration route passes starts in north-eastern Alberta and then they travel through, southwestern Saskatchewan, several states of the Great Plains region to their final destination in east-central Texas. A good viewing spot to see these birds would be the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma as over 75% of this population stops here annually.

The Whooping crane will nest in an area of wetland, a marshy area, or algae producing pond whose pH is normally in the range of 7.6 to 8.3. This nesting habitat of the Whooping crane is comprised of open areas that are in proximity to large amounts of water and vegetation. Like the Sandhill the Whooping crane likes an open area from which it can detect the approach of possible land based predators but also provide a range of food sources.

Description of Whooping Crane:

Pair of Whooping Cranes with Juvenile (center)

Whooping Crane
Photo of Whooping Cranes - US Fish and Wildlife Service - Flicker

The Whooping crane got its name from its whooping sound and it is the tallest bird in North America. So it is not surprising to note that it has a long thin neck and long black legs with grey coloured toes. It also has a long dark grey pointed bill with some pink colouring where it meets the face and yellow eyes with black pupils.

They are mostly white in colour but identifying markings would be its primary feathers and its crown. Its crown, the region between the eyes and nostrils along with its cheek areas are covered in short bristles that may vary in colour from a bright red to black. The primary feathers (the largest of the flight feathers that propel the bird through the air) .are black and can be seen while the bird is in flight.

This bird will keep its neck straight and extend their legs behind its body while it is in flight.

Whooping crane chicks look like that of a Sandhill crane at first in that they are an all sandy brown colour. But as the juvenile whooping crane develops it sports a lot of that sandy brown over a white body while its head and half of its neck is mostly brown.

Both males and females of this species look the same with the only differentiating factor being that males are larger than females.


The size and weight of a Whooping Crane is as follows.

  • Males average 16 lb. (7.3 kg.).
  • Females average 14 lb. (6.2 kg.).
  • Their height is about 57 in. (150 cm.).
  • The length of the body is 52 in. (132 cm.)
  • It has a long neck that will measure 51 to 63 in. (130 to 160 cm.) long.
  • The bill is 4.6 to 6.3 in. (11.7 to 16 cm.) long.
  • It is 21 to 25 in. (53 to 63 cm.) from the wrist joint to the most prominent point of the longest primary feather.
  • And it has a long wingspan of 79 to 89 ins. (200 to 230 cm.)

A wild whooping crane has a life expectancy of 22 to 24 years.

Diet and Foraging Strategy of the Whooping Crane:

This bird’s method of foraging is to wade in shallow water or in a field and then probing the water or ground with their bill to catch and pick up its prey.

The whooping crane is considered to be an omnivore in that is will eat both animal and plant matter with a strong preference towards animal matter.  Animals that it may consume are small birds, crustaceans, crayfish, clams, fish, frogs, small aquatic insects, molluscs, small reptiles, snails, and rodents. Plant material may consist of aquatic tubers, berries, and aquatic plants.

This crane does partake in the consumption of agricultural grains like wheat, barley, and corn. However, it is not as capable as its cousin the Sandhill Crane of digesting this type of food. That is because Whooping cranes don't swallow gizzard stones.

Breeding and Reproduction of the Whooping Crane:

Whooping Crane Chick

Whooping Crane chick
Photo By US Fish and Wildlife Services - Flickr

The Whooping crane tends to construct a large raised ground nest that is 2 to 5 ft. (0.6 to 1.5 m.) in diameter in a marshy area. The pair will try to take advantage of the local vegetation to hide their nest and help protect the incubating parent from any would be predators.

In order to make their nest the male and female Whooping Crane work as a team. They stack then walk on readily available loose vegetation like bulrushes, sedges, and cattails.  The object is to create a large flat surface with a shallow depression for the eggs to sit in.

The Whooping Crane is not loyal to its site like the Sandhill Crane is and each year the couple will pick a new site for their nest.

Completion of the nest usually occurs in late April to mid May and once it is complete, the female will lay a clutch of 1 or 2 large eggs.

These dark yellowish-green coloured eggs are covered with dots of dark brown and that gives them a camouflaged look. Size wise, these eggs measure about 4 in. (10 cm.) long by 2½ in. (6.35 cm) in width and will weigh about 6.7 ounces (190 g). The incubation period is the same as a Sandhill crane’s at 29–31 days.

Both parents take turns keeping the eggs warm and also the chicks following their hatching. However, it is the female that will likely spend the next 6 to 8 months tending to the nourishment requirements of the chick at a steadily decreasing rate. Although fully independent at this point the juvenile will not sever its relationship with its parents until it is almost 1 year of age.

Status of Whooping Crane

In 1941 there were only 21 wild individuals in existence. Recovery efforts have been underway and by 2003, there were about 153 breeding pairs. In April of 2007 their numbers were listed as 340 in the wild and 145 in captivity. Latest count in February 2015 shows there to be about 603 individuals in the wild and 161 in captivity. So the current trend is looking hopeful.

Issues that lead to the initial demise of the Whooping crane are cited as “unregulated hunting” and “loss of habitat”. It is likely that “loss of habitat” was the main cause but we should be mindful in our hunting that we don’t shoot one of these migratory birds. As it is still one of the rarest birds in North America and it is still endangered.

Despite our efforts, there are still natural predators of the Whooping Crane that raid nests and take chicks and sometimes adults. Some of those predators are land based like the American black bear, Alligator, Bobcat, Grey wolf, Cougar, Red fox, Lynx, and Wolverine.

Other birds like the Bald eagle, common raven, and Golden eagles have killed juvenile whooping cranes and chicks. 


Background Images

  • Whooping Crane - US Fish and Wildlife Service - Flicker


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