Three sandhill cranes

The Sandhill Crane Migration is On!

Bell Museum staff spot sandhill cranes getting their groove on

Published04/09/2020 , by Anna Kottkamp

Sandhill cranes are not great at the whole social distancing thing this time of year. In spring, sandhill cranes return to their breeding areas to nest and raise their young. Sandhill cranes can gather in the hundreds and thousands during this time, and they certainly are not maintaining six feet of distance!

One of our Bell educators, Mila Velimirovich, spotted these sandhill cranes busting a move near her home and caught a video! Turn up your volume to hear their calls.

Keep an eye out for sandhill cranes in wetlands, marshes, and fields near your home, and share with us on social media if you spot one. Read on to learn more about these amazing native birds and learn about our Crane Dance Challenge!

Fast facts about sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis)

  • Sandhill cranes have brown and grey wings, a long grey neck, and white face with a distinctive red crown.
  • Sandhill cranes like to eat frogs, small mammals, insects, snakes, and grains like wheat and oats.
  • Sandhill cranes have been used to help in the migration of the endangered whooping crane.
  • Sandhill cranes have a distinctive call, which can be heard here in the video above.

Back from the brink

Historically, sandhill cranes were threatened by hunting and habitat loss, with populations dropping to all-time lows in the mid-1900s. Thanks to protection and adequate habitat, these birds have made an astonishing recovery and now are estimated to number in the thousands in Minnesota.

How do you measure up?

The sandhill crane is one of the largest birds in Minnesota, standing at between 4–5 feet tall. Similar to most birds, sandhill cranes have hollow bones adapted for flying long distances. This means that adult sandhill cranes weigh surprisingly little for their height—just 5–8 pounds! Greater sandhill cranes can be slightly larger at around 10–12 pounds.

Do the Crane Dance!

If you’ve been to the Bell Museum, you’ve probably tried our sandhill crane mating dance. Cranes dance to attract mates which they then mate with for life. In spring, you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this famous courtship ritual for yourself!

Even if you’re stuck at home and can’t see sandhill cranes in your neighborhood, you can still bring the crane dance home with you! Try out this video of the crane dance with your family for some quality #MuseumAtHome time. Bonus points if you post a video of your flock dancing on social media and tag the Bell Museum!