The sandhill crane is a large crane species native to North America. Their size makes them intimidating, but they are not a highly aggressive species. However, they can be territorial during the breeding season.
When sandhill cranes have a nest and chicks to protect, they are extremely territorial. Their long bills and powerful legs are excellent tools for fighting off predators and other intruding cranes.
Sandhills require certain habitat necessities, such as undisturbed wetlands for foraging and secluded nesting sites. Pairs must guard their territory to protect these resources and successfully raise their young.
We will discuss the sandhill crane's territoriality in more detail throughout the article. Read on to discover more!
Sandhill cranes become extremely territorial during the breeding season
Sandhill cranes will not attack unprovoked; however, this does not mean they are friendly. These birds are extremely territorial, especially while nesting, and should be left alone.
As with any wildlife, it is a good idea to keep at least 300 ft of space between yourself and a sandhill crane. They are generally not afraid of people and, thus, have a tendency to wander too close.
To prevent any potential conflict, you should keep your distance - not only is it important for your safety, but it protects the bird as well. It can be dangerous for a crane to become too comfortable in the presence of humans.
A pair of angry Sandhill cranes having a stand off with a deer - protecting their territory
Sandhill cranes are most territorial during nesting season, and this is because they want to protect their young. Once a pair establishes a territory, they must defend it to ensure they retain access to all the habitat necessities required to survive and successfully raise chicks.
Cranes must have an ample food supply and a protected nesting location within their territory. These birds must also be aggressive to protect themselves and their nestlings from predators.
Sandhill cranes defend their established territories during the breeding season
There are a couple of different tactics sandhills cranes employ to protect themselves. A threatened pair will generally start with a series of unison or guard calls meant to establish territorial boundaries and intimidate intruders.
If intimidating calls do not work, the birds will mob the potential predator or adversary. Cranes wield their long, pointed bills like swords to fight off threats. They also use their powerful feet to protect themselves.
Sandhill cranes are territorial during the nesting season, which generally occurs between January and August (depending on location).
Non-migratory populations and any cranes breeding in warmer regions will begin nesting earlier, while those with longer migrations to colder regions will not nest until early spring.
Sandhill crane dancing at sunset
During the breeding season, sandhill cranes are territorial toward their own species. They must guard their territory against any potential threats, including other cranes that may want to fight to take the territory or its resources.
Sandhill crane siblings are also aggressive toward each other for nearly the first three months after hatching, or until the dominant one becomes apparent.
Sometimes sibling conflict is so intense it results in one of their deaths. Why so much aggression occurs between sandhill crane young is not fully understood.
Female sandhill cranes are territorial during nesting season. They will fight alongside their mate to ward off rival cranes and any potential predators. A pair of sandhills fighting together are formidable foes.
Mated pair of Sandhill cranes at their nesting site with eggs
Sandhill cranes are not naturally aggressive toward humans. If given their space so as not to feel threatened, they are most likely to leave humans alone.
Although there are no reports of cranes fully attacking onlookers, a few instances of the birds pecking people have occurred. The circumstances surrounding these occasions likely involved birds that had grown accustomed to receiving food from humans.
Sandhills are not like backyard songbirds. They should not be fed because it causes them to quickly lose their fear of humans. When cranes are no longer cautious around people, there is a greater risk of someone causing them harm. It can also make them dangerous to bystanders.
A pair of Sandhill cranes fighting over feeding territory
Most other birds are not a threat to sandhill cranes or their young, so aggression is unlikely. However, there are a few species - such as ravens, crows, eagles, and owls - that occasionally try to prey on crane eggs and nestlings.
When this occurs, adults certainly become aggressive toward these species. They will use their long legs to kick at threatening birds or ward them off with long sword-like bills.
No reports exist of sandhill cranes killing a human. These birds are not that aggressive, they are simply territorial when protecting their young. On rare occasions, sandhill cranes have pecked humans. But, these circumstances likely involved birds that were accustomed to receiving food from people.
There are reports of sandhill cranes attacking cats. However, such attacks likely occur because the cat got too close and the bird felt threatened. If possible, keep your cat indoors when sandhill cranes are about.
It is not unlikely for a sandhill crane to attack a dog if the dog gets too close, particularly during nesting season. Be sure to keep your canine leashed and give cranes a wide berth if you need to walk by them.
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