Driving to Anchorage from Seward recently, we spotted these sandhill cranes at Potter Marsh and decided to park the truck and walk out onto the boardwalk for a closer look.
Large birds are cool, and in North America, there aren’t many birds larger than Grus canadensis, sandhill cranes. Adults typically weight 8 to 10 pounds. The stand four to five feet tall and have wingspans of five-and-a-half feet to nearly seven feet. Sandhills are fairly common in the west, and in a few places can be viewed by the hundreds or even thousands. More frequently, they are seen here and there in pairs, in small groups, or as individuals.
The sexes are similar. Plumage ranges from drab gray to rusty brown. Aside from size, the most distinguishing characteristic is the red crown. (Click the photos for a larger view.)
We couldn’t quite make out what the adult bird is feeding the chick. Cranes are catholic in diet. Berries and seeds make up a large portion of their diet, but insects and other small animals figure in as well.
This chick will stay with its parents for 10 months or so – until just before next year’s breeding season when the parents will lay one to three eggs. Sandhills have a life expectancy of about seven years in the wild, but may live up to three times that long. Several subspecies occur throughout the U.S. and across the Pacific to Siberia. Accidentals have been reported in Europe.