Sandhill Crane: Oldest Surviving Bird Species

A majestic bird that is a delight to observe.

image by paoniabirds at photobucket

One of the most stately birds that flies is the sandhill crane and it may be the oldest known surviving bird species dating back to the Miocene Age.  A 10 million year old sandhill crane fossil was found in Nebraska  seems to back up that claim.

 There are two types of sandhills:  those that migrate and those that do not.  Florida sandhills, with which I am most acquainted, are the stay-at-home variety.    Migrating routes for others extend all the way from the Arctic to Puerto Rico.  

Sandhills grow from 3 to 5 feet in height, weight between 7 and 14 pounds and have a 5 to 6 foot wingspan.  The males are somewhat larger than the females.  The chicks are called colts.  Migratory birds are mostly varying shades of gray with red crowns and adults have white cheeks.  Reddish brown coloration  on these cranes are the result of feeding in iron-rich soil, then preening.  In fades during the winter.  Florida cranes tend to retain a sienna coloration atop the gray.

The preferred habitat is open fresh-water wetlands where the female makes her nest as a low mound from the dominant vegetation in the area.   Their diet consists of plant life, grain, insects, worms, snakes, frogs, and mice.  Their large beaks are capable of digging deeply into the soil to extract seeds.  Instances have been recorded in the midwest where large flocks of migrating sandhills have descended on newly planted corn fields and caused such devastation the entire acreage had to be replanted.

The female lays two eggs each year and both parents share in the brooding duties.  The colts hatch in 29-32 days and fledge at about 70 days, however they remain with the parents till spring–about 10  months.  Only one of the colts of migrating cranes generally survives to make the migration.
image by morris001 at photobucket

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9 Responses to “Sandhill Crane: Oldest Surviving Bird Species”
  1. PR Mace Says...

    On June 28, 2009 at 10:06 am

    Interesting well written article.

  2. deep blue Says...

    On June 28, 2009 at 10:09 am

    These are really interesting species. Their body structure really implies similar creatures in the past. Well written.

  3. Christine Ramsay Says...

    On June 28, 2009 at 10:10 am

    Very interesting. I have learnt something about cranes. Well done.


  4. Lostash Says...

    On June 28, 2009 at 10:50 am

    I never realised they were such an ancient species!

  5. Goodselfme Says...

    On June 28, 2009 at 10:57 am

    Good tribute to a well deserved species.

  6. Cynthia Bartlett Says...

    On June 28, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    Very nice. And doesn’t make you wonder that other species on our planet mate for life; however, humans do not and humans are supposed to be the superior species. Some where I read,not sure where, because it was a very long time ago, the only other species that has “sex” for fun are the dolphins.

    Gee, I wish I could remember where I read that. I am wondering if that was before or after August 1988. If someone recognizes the info can you e-me and let me know. Thanks.

  7. ladybaby Says...

    On June 28, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    Oh, they are so beautiful. So graceful looking. I love these kind of stories. Nature is for all of us to enjoy, but if we do not understand it, how can we enjoy it. Thanks for the lesson.

  8. Daisy Peasblossom Says...

    On June 28, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    Beautiful birds! Incredible that they should have been around that long. I knew turtles were elder citizens; I didn’t know about birds.

  9. Sheila M Says...

    On June 28, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    Ya know what?! I finally saw a baby crane in the wild! I have seen the cranes all the time in the corn fields but never with a baby. It was sooo cool. I didn’t realize they were that old either. Great article!

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