It’s almost that time of year again when we will be seeing those cute little sandhill crane colts following along behind their parents. There have been reports of pairs laying their eggs around The Villages, which means in about 30 days the little ones will begin hatching. It is a sight that is seen throughout the area this time of year.
Cranes will “dance” with one another, bowing, jumping, running, wing flapping and tossing sticks or grass towards each other which is commonly associated with courtship. Crane dancing is thought to strengthen the bond between pairs. Sandhill cranes mate for life. When they form a pair bond, it can last for years, until one of the cranes dies. After a mate passes away, the surviving crane will seek out a new mate.
Sandhill cranes have one brood per year. In nonmigratory populations, which we have here, they usually begin laying eggs in December or January. Both members of the breeding pair build the nest consisting of plant material from the surrounding area. Females usually lay two eggs, which are incubated by both parents for about 30 days. The colts hatch covered in down, with their eyes open. They can leave the nest with their parents within a day in search of food.
The adults brood the chicks for up to three weeks after hatching, feeding them intensively for the first few weeks. The adults will grab bugs, and other items, from the ground, point it towards the colt which will run to the adult and grab the food. You can see this go on continuously for the first few weeks, then gradually less frequently until they reach independence at around 9-10 months old.
Sandhill cranes are mainly herbivorous, eating various types of food, depending on availability. They often feed with their bills down to the ground as they root around for seeds and insects. They also may feed on berries, small mammals, insects, snails, reptiles, and amphibians.
Florida’s year-round resident cranes are called Florida sandhill cranes, while the migratory birds that winter in Central Florida are called greater sandhill cranes.
Should you feed sandhill cranes? In 2002, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission made it illegal to intentionally feed sandhill cranes. When cranes are fed and learn to associate people with food, they can lose their fear of humans, and in rare instances have been reported pecking people.