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Sandhill Cranes

sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis) are large birds with long legs. They often group in large numbers and can be heard flying overhead with their distinctive call.

General Characteristics

Physical Characteristics
  • Sandhill cranes are large birds with a long neck, long black legs, and broad wings.
  • They have a gray body and a red cap on the head.
  • The head is small, but the bill is straight and longer than the head.
  • Juveniles are gray and rusty brown without the red crown.
Behavioral Characteristics
  • The sandhill crane’s long rolling call and unique tone is due to anatomy—they have long windpipes that coil into the chest and develop a lower pitch.
  • The birds mate for life, choosing partners based on dancing.
  • They migrate in groups up to the tens of thousands.
  • They attack aerial predators by leaping in air and kicking.

Distribution and Abundance

Sandhill cranes migrate through Indiana and some breed in northern counties. During migration, large flocks stopover at Goose Pond Fish & Wildlife Area and Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area.


Sandhill cranes usually nest in small, isolated wetlands near the edge of larger wetland areas. They build their nest in vegetation such as cattails, sedges, burr reeds, bulrushes, or grasses. Nests may be 30 to 40 inches wide and 4-6 inches high.

They usually lay 1-3 eggs, once a year. The incubation period is 29-32 days. Eggs are pale brownish yellow to olive with brown or gray markings.

Food Habits

sandhill cranes

Sandhills are omnivores. They eat:

  • Seeds and grains
  • Berries
  • Nuts
  • Tubers
  • Small vertebrates
  • Small invertebrates
  • Snails
  • Amphibians
  • Nesting birds

Management and Control

Sandhill cranes are one of more than 750 nongame species in Indiana. All nongame species conservation and management is done through the DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife’s Wildlife Diversity Staff. Several Division of Fish & Wildlife properties have ideal habitat for sandhill cranes that also benefit many other species.