Nesting Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes are large birds, 4 feet in height with a wingspan of 6 to 7 feet.  The head is white with a bright red cap, the beak is black.  The body is predominantly grey but the reddish-brown hue they often take on comes from the mud they use to preen their feathers.  They winter in the southern United States, Mexico and Cuba and come north to breed.  Sandhill Cranes can live for 20 years or more.  These images were taken in southwestern Ontario over 4 days from April 30 to May 3, 2016.

Sandhill Cranes mate for life and they stay with their mates year round.  Their habitat is freshwater wetlands, marshes and river basins.  The nest is large, built in watery areas, and constructed from reeds.   Two eggs are what's normally laid; sometimes there's just one, but rarely three.

Both parents take care of the nest, and both sit on the eggs.  The male is always close by, scanning the environment.  The eggs take 28-32 days to hatch.

Watching the eggs.

The first chick is born.  It is able to stand and move around almost immediately.

Checking the newborn and watching the second egg.

Resting in amongst the mother's back feathers while she sits on the second egg waiting for it to hatch.

And now there are two...

Proud parents

A Canada Goose wandered by and stayed for some time.  The parents remained relaxed and unalarmed which meant the goose posed no threat to them or the chicks.  At other times, when birds flew overhead or noises alerted the cranes, they became extremely alert and very vocal.

Hovering over the chicks while the other adult looks on.

The cranes have now left the nest, the parents moving their chicks to new places, where they'll start them on their journey to independence.  The chicks are able to survive alone from the age of two months, but usually remain with their parents for about nine months, migrating south with them in the fall.  Around two they will start looking for a mate of their own and will start breeding anywhere from the age of two to seven. 

Sandhill Cranes are beautiful, majestic birds.  It has been a great pleasure watching them over the past four days and I'll be looking for them again next spring.