Okanagan Region  
Regional Home Page
Regional Enforcement Branch Regional Environmental Protection Branch
Regional Environmental Stewardship Branch

About Species at Risk
Species Profiles
Conservation Strategies
Related Links

Habitat Atlas for Wildlife at Risk
Sandhill Crane
Grus canadensis

Sandhill Crane
Sandhill Crane

    Land Tenure - Sandhill Crane
  • Length: 0.9 to 1.2 metres; wingspan: 2 metres.
  • Plumage is blue-grey, with a rusty tinge on some feathers.
  • Adults have bare red skin over the forehead and upper face, and white cheeks.
  • Bill and legs are black.


British Columbia Blue List

Special Significance

This once abundant bird, has declined across North America due to habitat loss, disturbance and unregulated hunting. It is not known whether British Columbia's present breeding population is increasing or decreasing, but it is clear that breeding populations in the Southern Interior and in the Fraser Valley were decimated in the last century. Sandhill Cranes are sensitive to human activity. Although they pass overhead by the thousands during fall and spring migration, and often land and feed during migration, they have not nested in the South Okanagan since the 1920s. Prevention of further habitat destruction and human disturbance are key factors in maintaining British Columbia's small population.


  • Most Sandhill Cranes seen in British Columbia are migrating between nesting grounds in Alaska and wintering grounds in the southern United States. The Okanagan Valley is one of three main migratory routes in British Columbia.
  • Spring migration sightings peak in the last half of April and fall migration peaks in late September and early October. The cranes usually pass over White Lake, flying along the west side of Okanagan Lake before leaving the valley near Peachland and heading into the Nicola Valley.
  • British Columbia breeding populations are scattered across the province. A handful of pairs have begun nesting in the Lower Mainland again, but former nesting grounds on Vancouver Island and in the Okanagan Valley remain unoccupied.


  • Sandhill Cranes breed in isolated bogs, marshes, swamps, and meadows.
  • Feeding and roosting habitats include shallow wetlands such as margins of lakes, marshes, bogs, ponds, meadows, estuaries and intertidal areas, as well as dry uplands such as grasslands and agricultural fields.
  • Isolation and the presence of water are two important factors for nesting locations.
  • Stopover sites during migration are open areas such as swampy fields, edge of wetlands, dry rangelands and grain fields.


  • The cranes' elaborate courtship dances begin during spring migration; breeding pairs stay together for life.
  • Nests are a low mound of grasses, sedges, rushes, moss and branches 1-1.5 metres wide; situated on the ground or in shallow water surrounded by shrubs or emergent vegetation.
  • Two eggs are laid in late April or early May; both adults incubate the eggs for one month.
  • Cranes are active at birth and able to leave the nest within 24 hours.
  • Both parents feed the young until they are about half grown and able to find their own food; usually only one offspring survives due to intense sibling aggression.
  • Young cranes begin to fly at about 70 days; fledglings quickly become strong fliers and are able to begin migration with their parents only days later.

Food Habits

  • Diet includes a variety of roots and berries, grasses, lichens, insects, snails, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, fish, seeds and grains.
  • Grain fields, farmlands and grasslands are important feeding areas during migration.

Interesting Facts

  • Unborn young produce distinct calls from inside the egg and the adults respond with a purring sound.
  • A crane's vocal repertoire may exceed a dozen kinds of calls.
  • Migration follows the same route, uses the same rest stops and occurs at the same time each year.
  • Cranes are often confused with the Great Blue Heron, which lacks the red forehead patch. In flight, the two birds are quite different as well - cranes hold their neck straight while herons fly with their head curved against the shoulders.
  • Migrating flocks of cranes are sometimes mistaken for geese, but are distinguished by their loose circling pattern of flight and their loud "bugling" call which can be heard kilometres away.


  • Low population growth rates due to late sexual maturity and small number of young each year, means a slow recovery rate after disturbances.
  • Loss of important crane habitat due to drainage projects, agricultural development and logging.
  • Cranes are sensitive to disturbance; birds may desert a nest due to intrusive disturbance.

Management Considerations

  • Protect key habitats such as wetlands and grasslands.
  • Advocate Sandhill Crane research and land acquisition proposals that will benefit the cranes.
  • View these sensitive birds from a distance.
  • Contact your local Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection office to report sightings of nests and cranes with young.


1. Campbell, R.W., N. K. Dawe, I. McTaggart-Cowan, J. Cooper, G. Kaiser and M.C. McNall. 1990. Birds of British Columbia: Volume 2. Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, BC.
2. Cannings, R.A., R.J. Cannings and S.G. Cannings. 1987. Birds of the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, BC


Government of BC links
Ministry Home Government of British Columbia Ministry of Environment Top of Page Copyright Disclaimer Privacy