Return of the Sandhill cranes

Jerry Apps
A pair of Sandhill Cranes at Roshara.

The Sandhill Cranes are back. We’ve had a pair of them nesting at our pond for many years—they uncannily return to nearly the same spot each year. 

They spend their winters in Florida and generally return in March, sometimes even before the snow has completely melted. 

I remember one year, when there was still snow on the ground, watching a Sandhill Crane standing in the snow, and lifting one leg and then the other. Even Sandhills experience cold feet.

These are magnificent birds, living sometimes as many or 25 to 30 years, with the same mate. Their feathers are various shades of gray to brown. Their foreheads and crown are covered with reddish skin.

They stand four to five feet and have a wingspread as much as six feet. The female generally lays two eggs, which both the male and female tend during the 29–32-day incubation period.

I so enjoy their primitive call, as they often fly over while we are working in our garden. Until I did a little research, I didn’t know that the Sandhill Cranes we see today have relatives that trace back ten million years.

At one time, the Sandhills Cranes were endangered, but no more. Their population has been on the increase—and they do cause some crop damage as they will eat everything including prowling for a meal in corn and grain fields. They also eat small animals, insects and even worms. Not fussy eaters, these Sandhills.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: When the Sandhill Cranes return, we know that spring cannot be far behind.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work, go to