Sandhill cranes, often seen in our area, are protected under the U.S. Bird Migratory Treaty Act.

By Ali Dunstan

Spring is in the air and that means it is sandhill crane mating, nesting and hatching season.

These stately birds have an average height of three to four feet; are found throughout freshwater ponds, marshes, prairies and pastures; and are commonly seen in residential communities. They are admired and adored for their grace and beauty and can often be observed in small groups or pairs.

Sandhill cranes can live up to 20 years in the wild and commit to one mate monogamously during their lifetime. Cranes will begin seeking a mate at around 2 years of age and courtship involves dancing, jumping and wing flapping that is often observed this time of year. Only if a mate has passed away will the widowed crane seek another.

Year after year, they will nest in shallow waters and vegetation and lay an average of two eggs. Incubation of these eggs, which will hatch one or both, lasts about 32 days on average.

Baby sandhill cranes are called colts, not chicks. Colts are a bright orange color for the first couple of weeks after they hatch and are a treat to discover.

Adult sandhill cranes can be easily identified by their gray bodies and distinct red patch of color on their heads. Both the males and the females are identical. This is called monomorphism and means that gender cannot be visually distinguished by their appearance as they share the same physical resemblances.

A species of special concern and listed as threatened in the state of Florida, these birds are protected under the U.S. Bird Migratory Treaty Act. It is illegal to feed, touch or disturb these animals. It is also illegal to try and attract them to your yard with seed.

Like other resident species, sandhill cranes face many threats, including habitat loss, habitat degradation and negative effects from pollution. A general wildlife viewing rule: if they are looking at you or discontinue what they are doing, you are probably too close and causing them stress.

With less than 5,000 breeding sandhill cranes in the state, admire these amazing animals from a distance and help them continue to flourish in Florida. Remember to slow down for cranes as they are a slow-moving bird, and always adhere to the law by being a good steward to the environment to ensure many more shared generations with our wonderful Florida wildlife.