The Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis) is a species of large crane of North America and extreme northeastern Siberia. The common name of this bird refers to habitat like that at the Platte River, on the edge of Nebraska’s Sandhills on the American Plains. This is the most important stopover area for the nominotypical subspecies, the lesser sandhill crane (Antigone canadensis canadensis), with up to 450,000 of these birds migrating through annually.
The sandhill crane was formerly placed in the genus Grus, but a molecular phylogenetic study published in 2010 found that the genus, as then defined, was polyphyletic. In the resulting rearrangement to create monophyletic genera, four species, including the sandhill crane, were placed in the resurrected genus Antigone that had originally been erected by the German naturalist Ludwig Reichenbach in 1853. The specific epithet canadensis is the modern Latin word for “Canadian”.
Adults are gray overall; during breeding, their plumage is usually much worn and stained, particularly in the migratory populations, and looks nearly ochre. The average weight of the larger males is 4.57 kg (10.1 lb), while the average weight of females is 4.02 kg (8.9 lb), with a range of 2.7 to 6.7 kg (6.0 to 14.8 lb) across the subspecies. Sandhill cranes have red foreheads, white cheeks, and long, dark, pointed bills. In flight, their long, dark legs trail behind, and their long necks keep straight. Immature birds have reddish-brown upperparts and gray underparts. The sexes look alike. Sizes vary among the different subspecies; the average height of these birds is around 80 to 136 cm (2 ft 7 in to 4 ft 6 in). Their wing chords are typically 41.8–60 cm (16.5–23.6 in), tails are 10–26.4 cm (3.9–10.4 in), the exposed culmens are 6.9–16 cm (2.7–6.3 in) long, and the tarsi measure 15.5–26.6 cm (6.1–10.5 in).
These cranes frequently give a loud, trumpeting call that suggests a rolled “r” in the throat, and they can be heard from a long distance. Mated pairs of cranes engage in “unison calling”. The cranes stand close together, calling in a synchronized and complex duet. The female makes two calls for every one from the male.
Sandhill cranes’ large wingspans, typically 1.65 to 2.30 m (5 ft 5 in to 7 ft 7 in), make them very skilled soaring birds, similar in style to hawks and eagles. Using thermals to obtain lift, they can stay aloft for many hours, requiring only occasional flapping of their wings, thus expending little energy. Migratory flocks contain hundreds of birds, and can create clear outlines of the normally invisible rising columns of air (thermals) they ride.
Sandhill cranes fly south for the winter. In their wintering areas, they form flocks over 10,000. One place this happens is at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, 100 mi (160 km) south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. An annual Sandhill Crane Festival is held there in November.
Sandhill cranes are fairly social birds that usually live in pairs or family groups through the year. During migration and winter, unrelated cranes come together to form “survival groups” that forage and roost together. Such groups often congregate at migration and winter sites, sometimes in the thousands.
Sandhill cranes are mainly herbivorous, but eat various types of food, depending on availability. They often feed with their bills down to the ground as they root around for seeds and other foods, in shallow wetlands with vegetation or various upland habitats. Cranes readily eat cultivated foods such as corn, wheat, cottonseed, and sorghum. Waste corn is useful to cranes preparing for migration, providing them with nutrients for the long journey. Among northern races of sandhill cranes, the diet is most varied, especially among breeding birds. They variously feed on berries, small mammals, insects, snails, reptiles, and amphibians.
Sandhill cranes raise one brood per year. In nonmigratory populations, laying begins between December and August. In migratory populations, laying usually begins in April or May. Both members of a breeding pair build the nest using plant material from the surrounding area. Nest sites are usually marshes, bogs, or swales, though occasionally on dry land. Females lay one to three (usually two) oval, dull brown eggs with reddish markings. Both parents incubate the eggs for about 30 days. The chicks are precocial; they hatch covered in down, with their eyes open, and able to leave the nest within a day. The parents brood the chicks for up to three weeks after hatching, feeding them intensively for the first few weeks, then gradually less frequently until they reach independence at 9 to 10 months old.
The chicks remain with their parents until one to two months before the parents lay the next clutch of eggs the following year, remaining with them 10–12 months. After leaving their parents, the chicks form nomadic flocks with other juveniles and non-breeders. They remain in these flocks until they form breeding pairs at between two and seven years old.
The Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata) is a large duck native to Mexico, Central, and South America. Small wild and feral breeding populations have established themselves in the United States, particularly in Florida, Louisiana, and the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas as well as in many other parts of North America, including southern Canada. Feral Muscovy ducks are found in New Zealand, Australia, and in parts of Europe.
They are large ducks, with the males about 76 cm (30 in) long, and weighing up to 7 kg (15 lb). Females are considerably smaller, and only grow to 3 kg (6.6 lb), roughly half the males’ size. The bird is predominantly black and white, with the back feathers being iridescent and glossy in males, while the females are more drab. The amount of white on the neck and head is variable, as well as the bill, which can be yellow, pink, black, or any mixture of these. They may have white patches or bars on the wings, which become more noticeable during flight. Both sexes have pink or red wattles around the bill, those of the male being larger and more brightly colored.
Although the Muscovy duck is a tropical bird, it adapts well to cooler climates, thriving in weather as cold as −12 °C (10 °F) and able to survive even colder conditions. All Muscovy ducks have long claws on their feet and a wide flat tail. In the domestic drake (male), length is about 86 cm (34 in) and weight is 4.6–6.8 kg (10–15 lb), while the domestic hen (female) is much smaller, at 64 cm (25 in) in length and 2.7–3.6 kg (6.0–7.9 lb) in weight. Large domesticated males often weigh up to 8 kg (18 lb), and large domesticated females up to 5 kg (11 lb).
The true wild Muscovy duck, from which all domesticated Muscovy originated, is blackish, with large white wing patches. Length can range from 66 to 84 cm (26 to 33 in), wingspan from 137 to 152 cm (54 to 60 in) and weight from 1.1–4.1 kg (2.4–9.0 lb) in wild Muscovy. On the head, the wild male has short crest on the nape. The bill is black with a speckling of pale pink. A blackish or dark red knob can be seen at the bill base, and the bare skin of the face is similar to that in color. The eyes are yellowish-brown. The legs and webbed feet are blackish. The wild female is similar in plumage, but is also much smaller, and she has feathered face and lacks the prominent knob. The juvenile is duller overall, with little or no white on the upperwing. Domesticated birds may look similar; most are dark brown or black mixed with white, particularly on the head. Other colors such as lavender or all-white are also seen. Both sexes have a nude black-and-red or all-red face; the drake also has pronounced caruncles at the base of the bill and a low erectile crest of feathers.
This non-migratory species normally inhabits forested swamps, lakes, streams and nearby grassland and farm crops, and often roosts in trees at night. The Muscovy duck’s diet consists of plant material obtained by grazing or dabbling in shallow water, and small fish, amphibians, reptiles, crustaceans, insects, and millipedes. This is an aggressive duck; males often fight over food, territory or mates. The females fight with each other less often. Some adults will peck at the ducklings if they are eating at the same food source.