As dusk settled over the Platte River last night, thousands of sandhill cranes took to the sky. Some huddled together in flocks while others rested individually or in pairs. Many stretched their wings out and flapped them up as they called to their mates in a complex, synchronized duet.
While the sight of so many cranes roosting at night along the riverbank is breathtaking, there’s a lot more to know about how and why these majestic birds choose to sleep where they do. In general, cranes prefer a location that offers plenty of open space and few trees. They also like to be partially or fully submerged in water. It seems that the water helps them stay warm and prevents predators from sneaking up on them.
During the day, sandhill cranes forage on waste corn in crop fields and on a variety of plants and invertebrates in wet meadows and grasslands. This omnivorous diet is necessary for their health and reproduction. Corn provides the bulk of their energy, but it isn’t a complete diet for sandhill cranes—they need specific mineral nutrients and proteins to thrive.
As adults, sandhill cranes mate for life and can be very dedicated to their partners. But they are opportunistic feeders and will switch to another partner if their original one dies or if they can’t breed successfully. Mated pairs can be identified by their unique dance and their distinct calls—though telling males from females can still be challenging.