Whether roosting in shallow water, on the banks of a wetland area or in a cornfield, cranes find safe and secure places to sleep. This is a key adaptation for these birds that require energy to survive. They cannot roost up in trees like many other bird species, which would place them at greater risk of predation.
Sandhill cranes typically balance on one leg as they sleep, although they can also lay down and rest while keeping their eyes open. They use their vocalizations, even while asleep, to maintain communication with other cranes, ensuring safety and group cohesion.
In the breeding season, cranes stay near their nests to protect their eggs and chicks. When not in the nest, they spend their days scouting for food in wetland and grassland areas. They are omnivorous, feeding on seeds, berries, roots and crop plants such as corn and wheat grains. They will also eat frogs, snails, insects, rodents and lizards.
While resting and preparing for migration, cranes often flock together in same-species groups. At some wintering grounds, such as the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, they gather in enormous numbers – up to 10,000 birds. These huge gatherings of cranes provide protection from predators, as their massive size acts as a natural deterrent to unwanted intruders. They also make a ruckus as they move through wetlands and fields, providing auditory warnings to any potential threats. And their incredible eyesight enables them to spot a prowling coyote or curious photographer hundreds of yards away and quickly take flight.