The Florida Sandhill Crane is a big bird – reaching heights of four feet with a wingspan of around 78″, they stand out when they are foraging for food along the dikes at Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge near DeLeon Springs, Florida.
I visited Lake Woodruff in mid-April, a different time of year than when I usually visit. During this time, I was able to see some young cranes (also known as colts) with their parents.
Sandhill Cranes are known to be great parents. Both will build the nest, help incubate the eggs, and take care of the young colts until they are ready to go out on their own; usually in about ten months.
Sandhill Cranes usually lay two eggs with an incubation period of around 30 days. Immediately after hatching, they can walk and forage with their parents. They are born with eyes wide-open with a coat of down. I would guess the young cranes I saw were about thirty days old.
The cranes have very long beaks, and they use their long beaks to dig for seeds, roots, and insects. They are primarily herbivores but will eat anything available, including small mammals, reptiles, snails, etc. They do not fish like their close cousin, the Blue Heron.
One way to tell the difference between cranes and herons is their necks during flight. A crane flies with their necks straight, and herons fly with their necks tucked in. With their enormous wingspan, they can stay aloft for hours without exerting much energy.
The Sandhill Crane can live a very long life compared to most wild birds, as they sometimes live more than twenty years. They have also been roaming the Earth for a very long time. The oldest fossil remains of a Sandhill Crane were dated to be about 2.5 million years old.