An omnivorous species, the sandhill crane uses its versatile bill to take plant material, such as tubers, seeds and berries, as well as small animals, such as insects, worms, snakes and mice (2) (5). This species can be extremely destructive to agriculture, and flocks can remove nearly all planted seeds from the fields on which they descend. The chicks grow rapidly on a high-protein diet, mainly comprising insects and other invertebrates (2). Like other crane species, the sandhill crane exhibits extravagant dancing behaviour, which includes bowing, jumping, running, stick or grass tossing and wing-flapping. While dancing has an important role in courtship, it is performed outside the breeding season by individuals of all ages, and is thought to aid motor development, counteract aggression, relieve tension and strengthen the pair bond (2).
The sandhill crane is typically a monogamous species, and once formed, breeding pairs usually mate for life (6). Resident populations usually breed earlier in the year than the migrants, producing eggs from January up until August. In contrast, migratory populations arrive at the breeding grounds in the spring and lay eggs from early April to late May (6). Nests are constructed from local vegetation, formed into a low mound with a central cup in which the eggs are deposited (5) (6). A clutch of 1 to 3 eggs is laid, which are incubated by both sexes for a period of 29 to 32 days. The young fledge at around 67 to 75 days, but do not become independent of the parents until they are 9 to 10 months old (5) (6). Migratory populations leave the northern breeding grounds between early autumn and early winter (6), making an extensive southward journey that can cover almost 6,500 kilometres (4). During migration, this species forms large flocks, which concentrate in vast numbers at certain areas during the journey known as staging grounds (6).