Greater Sandhill Cranes

With March comes the return of some of our migrating bird species. The greater sandhill crane is found in North America, Cuba and eastern Siberia. The Nevada breeding population is found in northeastern Nevada including Elko County. Sandhill cranes will stage in their largest numbers in the state in Ruby Valley and Lamoille Valley during their fall migration. These birds have spent the winter in Arizona and California along the lower Colorado River.

In the spring they often stopover in Lund, Nevada where they stay for several weeks before heading further north to their breeding areas. Upon arrival, pairs establish nesting territories.  Sandhill cranes form pair bonds at about three to four years of age and they mate for life. They can live over twenty years so this is a long term commitment. Courting cranes stretch their wings, pump their heads, bow, and leap into the air in an energetic dance. The nest is made from surrounding vegetation and can reach a diameter of over five feet. The pair will defend a large area of up to 400 acres which typically include wet meadows, grasslands and shallow wetlands. Usually two eggs are laid and the parents take turns incubating for the next 28 to 30 days. The young are called colts and are tended by both parents.  The colts will take their first flights at around 60 days.

Sandhill cranes feed on a wide variety of foods. Their diet is heavy in seeds and cultivated grains but they also eat berries, tubes, insects, snails, reptiles, nestling birds, and small mammals.

These very vocal birds have a very recognizable honk and gurgling call.  They have a long neck and long legs and stand up to 4 feet tall with a wingspan of over 6 feet. Its grey-brown body is often splotched with rusty patches.  Their red forehead contrasts with the white face.  They fly with their legs and necks outstretched.

Next time you are driving along grasslands in Ruby Valley, Lamoille Valley, Star Valley, Clover Valley and the Deeth area be sure to watch for these returning birds. Since they are setting up breeding territories expect to see them in groups of two. To learn more about our areas birds, plants and other wildlife follow us on Facebook at Bristlecone Audubon or contact us at if you would like to receive our digital newsletter.

Contributed by Lois Ports for Bristlecone Audubon

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