The Big, Beautiful and Loud Sandhill Crane

Sandhill cranes are a magnificent sight.

Photo by Chad Merda

Sandhill cranes are big, majestic birds. They have long legs and necks to make them stand tall, and their feathers are mostly gray except for a bright crimson red patch on their heads.


Even though they are known for their beauty, we often hear them before we see them, because they make a loud, trumpeting call that has a low pitch.


In Illinois, we most often see sandhill cranes in the spring and fall during their migration.


Fun facts

  • Each fall, as the sandhill cranes migrate south for the winter, thousands of them congregate at an Indiana state park in Medaryville, Indiana, which is less than two hours away from Will County. The cranes start arriving in September and stay through December.

  • These birds are named for the Sandhills region of Nebraska, which is the largest sand dune formation in the Western Hemisphere. These dunes were formed decades ago by blowing sand but are now covered with grass and other vegetation.

  • There are 15 crane species in the world, but only two, the sandhill crane and the whooping crane, live in North America.

  • Sandhill cranes are omnivores, which means they eat different kinds of food, including plants and animals. They eat insects, rodents, reptiles, amphibians, plant roots, berries and seeds.

  • Cranes are some of the oldest animals on the planet. They have lived on Earth for more than 34 million years. Sandhill cranes are the same today as they were 10 million years ago.

  • Sandhill cranes like open spaces and usually breed and nest in areas with shallow standing water, like marshes, bogs and wet prairies, and meadows.