Yesterday I decided to stop at Lock and Dam 13 in Fulton, Illinois to see if there was anything interesting in that area. I wasn’t disappointed! The first little pond on the road usually has ducks in it, but not this time. Instead, I spotted a pair of sandhill cranes! I didn’t even know that they existed until this spring; since then, I have been trying to capture a clear photo. However, these guys are really skittish and I have never been able to get close to them without spooking them. For whatever reason, that was not the case on this day. I was able to get out of my car and “stalk” them without them flying away.
Sandhill cranes are large migratory birds. They stand 3-4 feet tall and have a wingspan of over 5 feet. They have long, thin necks and legs. Their bodies are mostly gray, but may often look reddish-brown. This variance is because sandhill cranes preen themselves with mud. Perhaps one of most identifiable features of the sandhill crane (besides its size) is a crimson patch on its forehead.
The sandhill crane mates for life. After mating they build a nest on the ground in marsh areas. The nest is formed with sticks and plant materials. The female will lay one or two eggs which will take about a month to hatch. Both the male and female take care of the nest. It takes the babies over two months to become independent.
Their diet consists of mostly plants and seeds. However, sandhill cranes will eat small invertebrates, amphibians, and even mammals if they are available. They live in freshwater marshes and wetlands and can live for over 20 years.