Sandhill CraneThe Brandywine Zoo has a sandhill crane named Sandy, who came to live at the zoo in 2007. Sandy was found on the ground near Messalonskee Lake in Maine in July 2007 as an early fledgling. Due to needs for continued treatment for foot swelling issues (and his imprinting on humans), Sandy was unable to be released and missed out on learning how to migrate in his first year. He was transferred from the rehabber in Maine to Tri-State Bird Rescue and later came to Brandywine Zoo.

Prairies, fields, marshes, tundra, usually nests around marshes or bogs.

Breeds in northern United States, particularly Alaska, and Canada during the summer and winters in southern United States and Mexico.

Insects, roots of aquatic plants, rodents, snails, frogs,lizards, snakes, nestling birds, berries, seeds.

Tall bird with long neck, beak, and legs, a red crown and white throat, gray with tan body feathers that droop over the back end.

3-4 feet tall; 6-7 foot wingspan

6-12 pounds

Wild: 20 years
Under Human Care: 20-40 years

Loss and degradation of river wetland ecosystems are the most important threats to sandhill crane populations. The cranes used to roost in many prairie rivers, but today most of these rivers are regulated by dams, causing most of the sandbars, on which the birds roost, to be either submerged or covered in dense vegetation, such as willows, because the sandbars are no longer inundated by spring flooding.

Least Concern

• Usually 2 eggs are laid, sometimes 1 or 3. They are pale olive with brown or gray markings.
• Incubation is done by both sexes, and lasts about 30 days

• Sandhill cranes usually migrate to live further south during the winter months, and return north during the spring.
• They build large mound nests in wetlands out of dried plants. Sandhill cranes are monogamous birds, meaning they will mate for life.

• Usually live in pairs or family groups.
• During migration and winter, non-related cranes come together to form “survival groups” that forage and roost together.
• These winter groups can sometimes have numbers in the thousands.

• Cranes have a contact call to keep track of each other when they cannot see through tall vegetation.
• Another call is made by unhatched cranes inside their egg, to which the adults respond with a purring sound.
• Sandhill cranes are known for elaborate courtship display dances that include both male and female birds spreading their wings, and leaping in air while calling to each other.


Sandhill cranes defend themselves by jumping and kicking. 

Sandhill Crane chicks are also called “colts.”

Cranes are the tallest flying birds. The Sarus Crane, an Asian crane species related to sandhill cranes, is the tallest of this group.

Sandhill cranes can fly 25-35 mph; they typically travel 200 – 300 miles in a day while migrating, but can reach 500 miles with a good tail wind.

They can reduce the amount of blood in their legs and feet by constricting blood vessels. This allows the cranes to stand in freezing water for hours!

What are AZA Zoos doing for Sandhill Cranes?

AZA zoos host and breed many species of cranes that are endangered in the wild in conservation breeding programs (SSPs)- though there is no SSP for sandhill cranes. Organizations like the International Crane Foundation were critical in the recovery of Whooping Cranes, which at one time there were only 15 left in the world. Some species are even being bred using artificial insemination, including sarus, red-crowned, demoiselle, and blue cranes. In protecting habitat and breeding animals, zoos are helping to save crane species from around the world.

More images of our Sandhill Crane