Tall and elegant waders, Sandhill Cranes (Antigone canadensis) gather at a migration staging area along the Platte River in their thousands. If you’re lucky enough to see them in flight, it’s impossible not to notice their vast wingspan. But just how big are sandhill cranes, and do any other waders come close to matching the size of their outstretched wings? Let’s find out!
Sandhill cranes are an imposing sight wading through wetlands, foraging for grains. At up to 1.2 m (3 ft 11 in), they are among the tallest waders in the U.S. But their wingspan is what makes them even more remarkable, measuring on average between 1.8 m and 2 m (5 ft 11 in and 6 ft 7 in).
The various subspecies of sandhill cranes differ significantly in height, weight and wingspan, and there are also noticeable differences between the size of males and females. Greater sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis tabida) are up to one-third taller and heavier than lesser sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis canadensis).
We’ll be taking a look at how sandhill cranes rank against other tall birds, and how their size might benefit them, so please read on to discover more.
Sandhill Cranes can stand up to 1.2 metres (3ft 11), and have impressive wingspans over 6 foot
Wingspan measurements for sandhill cranes are given as between 1.8 m and 2 m (71 in to 79 in), with females being at the shorter end of the scale.
The weight of sandhill cranes falls in the range of 3.2 kg to 5.4 kg (113 oz to 190 oz). There is variation between males and females and also between subspecies.
A pair of Sandhill Cranes in flight, displaying their impressive wingspan
Adult sandhill cranes are long-legged and elegant wading birds, with male greater sandhill cranes reaching heights of up to 1.2 m (3 ft 11 in) in height. Female lesser sandhill cranes are the smallest, standing around 0.8 m tall (2 ft 7 in).
In terms of height, the largest adult sandhill cranes are at least half the size of the tallest adult humans and around the same size as an average 7-year-old.
The outstretched wingspan of an adult sandhill crane reaches up to 2 m (6 ft 7 in), which is at least half a foot taller than a 6-ft-tall adult.
'Dancing' Sandhill Crane, a few days before migration
Sandhill cranes are omnivorous, and plant matter, including seeds, grains and berries, forms the main part of their diet.
Although they do eat insects, amphibians and small rodents, they are not precision fishing experts like herons, and there’s no danger of a sandhill crane picking up your pet cat or dog and carrying it off.
Prey such as frogs, mice, lizards, small birds, earthworms, crayfish and crustaceans are among the largest prey that sandhill cranes will forage for.
Many populations of sandhill cranes embark on lengthy migration flights between their breeding grounds in Siberia and the northernmost extremes of North America and wintering grounds in the southern United States and Mexico.
Such a vast wingspan enables them to cover long distances with relative ease, soaring on thermals over grasslands for several hours, while expending minimal energy and hardly needing to flap their wings.
On land, their long legs are adapted for wading through boggy and shallow wetlands. Their height helps them effectively scan their habitats for threats and to keep a vigilant watch for any approaching predators.
A group of Sandhill Cranes, walking down a path in a residential area
Sandhill cranes are similar in shape to North America’s only other native crane, the whooping crane (Grus americana), but are between 15 cm and 28 cm (6 in and 11 in) shorter.
Despite the long list of species that overshadow the sandhill crane in height and/or wingspan, there are plenty of birds that a sandhill crane would come out on top in a head-to-head (or wing-to-wing) contest.
Great egrets stand a maximum of 99 cm (39 in) in height and have wingspans of 136 cm (55 in), and greater flamingos, which have wingspans that ‘only’ reach between 140 cm and 187 cm (55 in to 74 in), compared to the sandhill crane’s 200-cm (79-in) measurement.
Sandhill Crane foraging next to a wild turkey
Generally speaking, great blue herons are taller than sandhill cranes and have marginally wider wingspans. Great blue herons have a maximum height of 137 cm (53.9 in) compared to 120 cm (47.2 in) for sandhill cranes. A sandhill crane’s maximum wingspan of 2 m (78.7 in) is just a centimeter short of that of the largest great blue heron 201 cm (79.1 in).
Sandhill cranes lead the way in terms of mass, weighing a maximum of 5.4 kg (190 oz), compared to 2.5 kg (88.2 oz) for the largest great blue herons.
On average, sandhill cranes stand between 1 m and 1.2 m (3 ft 3 in and 3 ft 11 in) tall.
Despite its impressive height and awe-inspiring wingspan, the sandhill crane isn’t the world’s largest crane. That honor goes to the wattled crane, which has a wingspan that reaches a maximum 260 cm (8 ft 6 in).
Sarus cranes (250 cm/8 ft 2 in), Manchurian cranes (250 cm/8 ft 2 in) and whooping cranes (230 cm/7 ft 7 in) all rank above the sandhill crane in terms of wingspan.
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