US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Wilson Bull., 106(l), 1994, pp. 62-71.


Each spring more than 300,000 Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) roost communally at night in river channels in the Platte River Valley of Nebraska and disperse at dawn to forage in agricultural fields. Cranes with central roosts had activity ranges double the size of those with peripheral roosts; 42% of the birds changed activity ranges prior to the onset of migration. Minimum daily flight distance generally increased during the staging period. Cranes used native grassland and planted hayland more often than expected, relative to their percentage of occurrence, and fed longest there; cornfields were under-utilized. These differences probably reflect, in part, (1) limited distribution of grasslands and haylands resulting in a greater energy expenditure to acquire protein in the form of macroinvertebrates and (2) wider distribution of cornfields with adequate energy-rich foods but limited protein. Cranes probably forage more efficiently and conserve energy by following conspecifics from communal roosts to local feeding grounds, by settling in fields where foraging flocks are already present, and by establishing diurnal activity centers. Alert behavior varied with flock size but not as predicted from group size, presumably because predation of staging adult cranes is inconsequential.