Friday, October 30, 2009

The Sandhill Crane in British Columbia

The Sandhill Crane has a widespread breeding distribution in British Columbia. Known breeding areas include much of the central Interior, the Queen Charlotte Islands, the central mainland coast, Mara Meadows near Enderby, East Kootenay, northeastern British Columbia near Fort Nelson, and at Pitt Meadows and Burns Bog in the Lower Mainland.

Diet and foraging behaviour:
Sandhill Cranes are opportunistic foragers, feeding on both animal (primarily invertebrates) and plant foods. Invertebrates consumed by cranes include earthworms, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, cutworms, and snails. Other foods taken by Sandhill Cranes include crayfish, voles, mice, frogs, toads, snakes, nestling birds, bird eggs, berries, and carrion.

Movements and dispersal:
Three migration routes are known in British Columbia, each of which is used in spring and autumn: coastal, central Interior, and northeastern Interior. Cranes migrating along the coastal route enter British Columbia over Juan de Fuca Strait and are occasionally seen in the Barkley Sound and Johnstone Strait regions.

The main passage of migrants occurs in early April, whereas the autumn movement peaks in October. Birds using the coastal route (~3500) are suspected of nesting in the coastal islands of British Columbia and southeast Alaska.

View a short video of a nesting Sandhill Crane [from the
B.C. Coastal Sandhill Crane Project]

After hatching, young leave the nest and forage with their parents around the perimeter of the natal wetland, primarily in sedge meadows. Once young have fledged, localized congregations occur in premigration staging areas. In the fall at Burns Bog (North Delta), cranes moved from roosting areas within the Bog to agricultural fields for foraging each day, moving distances of 2–4 km with the average distance of flight movements between feeding and roosting areas to range from 2 to 16 km.

Habitats and Habitat Features - Nesting:
Typical breeding habitats include isolated bogs, marshes, swamps and meadows, and other secluded shallow freshwater wetlands surrounded by forest cover. Emergent vegetation such as sedges, Cattail, bulrush, Hardhack, willows, and Labrador Tea are important for nesting and brood rearing.

Nesting wetlands are usually secluded, free from disturbance, and surrounded by forest. In coastal areas, brackish estuaries are used for rearing broods. Nests consist of large heaps of surrounding dominant vegetation, usually built in emergent vegetation or on raised hummocks over water.

One of the most important habitat characteristics for Sandhill Cranes is an unobstructed view of surrounding areas and isolation from disturbance. Typical foraging habitat includes shallow wetlands, marshes, swamps, fens, bogs, ponds, meadows, estuarine marshes, intertidal areas, and dry upland areas such as grasslands and agricultural fields. In the Interior, flooded meadows and agricultural fields provide good roosting habitat.

Conservation and Management Status:
Most breeding populations of Sandhill Crane are on the provincial Blue List in British Columbia; however, the Georgia Depression population is on the provincial Red List. The Greater Sandhill Crane is considered 'Not at Risk' in Canada. Other subspecies have not been assessed.

Legal Protection and Habitat Conservation:
The Sandhill Crane, its nests, and its eggs are protected in Canada and the United States under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act and the provincial Wildlife Act. Sandhill Cranes are hunted in other jurisdictions but are closed to hunting in British Columbia.

All photographs taken at The George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary by Kimberley Wakelin (LadyWoodpecker)
Information Source: The British Columbia Ministry of Environment - Status of the Sandhill Crane in British Columbia [PDF]


  1. Great article! I was in Florida last week and got to see these amazing birds up close for the first time. I was simply in awe of their size and beauty. It's funny to then think of them so far north by you because they don't breed anywhere near my home in Pennsylvania.

  2. Whenever we head out to the Migratory Bird Sanctuary, we look for these magnificent birds. I could sit for hours just watching them, and I have.

    Thanks so much for your comment, Carole. I'm looking forward to greeting them again in Spring.

  3. Great photos! I like the second one, all the beaks pointing at the same angle.

  4. ...I love Sandhill Cranes--this is a fabulous post! You have such wonderful info and photos. I was just at the Appalachian Lady's blog, and she linked to your blog. I'm glad she did!