Banded Cranes

Red, over green, over yellow...This Sandhill Crane in southern Wisconsin has been banded by ICF researchers.
Reporting banded crane sightings aides crane research in North America. Photo by Tom Lynn

Many researchers across North America band cranes for study of their migration routes, habitat selection, and other ecologically relevant purposes. Often we rely on the public for information about the location of Whooping and Sandhill Cranes on their breeding, migration, and wintering areas. This information is invaluable to researchers, who may often never see a bird again after it is banded. If you happen to see a banded crane, we'd love to hear about it.

To correctly identify the banded bird depends on both which species of crane it is and the location where the bird was observed. The guide below will help get your observation to the person who banded the crane, and they can then give you more information about the bird that you saw. To report your sighting, look at the images below and click on the one that best fits the bird you observed.

Whooping Crane:

With the exception of black wing tips (primary feathers) and a black mustache, the body plumage is snow white. Red skin and sparse, black hair-like feathers cover the bird's crown. Eye color is golden yellow while the bill is yellowish and sometimes tipped with dull green. Visible portions of the legs and toes are black. Juveniles have entirely feathered heads. Juvenile plumage, except for primaries, is whitish and heavily mottled with cinnamon feathers that diminish as the chick ages. The primaries are dullish black.

Right, a banded adult and juvenile Whooping Crane in western Wisconsin. Photo by ICF staff

Report a banded Whooping Crane

sandhill crane2Sandhill Crane:

The different sub-species of Sandhill Crane vary greatly in size and weight. Lesser Sandhills, who breed at more northern latitudes such as the arctic, are the smallest, weighing on average about 6–7 pounds and standing 3–3.5 feet tall. At the other end of the extreme, temperate-nesting Greater Sandhills are the largest sub-species and average 10–14 pounds and 4.5–5 feet tall.

Body plumage is characterized by varying shades of gray. In many areas, wild Sandhills preen iron-rich mud into their feathers, creating a deep rusty brown hue that lasts during spring and summer (right, photo by Tom Lynn). As fall advances, these rusty feathers molt and the birds return to their grayish appearance. In some regions, however, iron-rich mud is absent and the birds appear gray all year.

The forehead and crown are covered with reddish skin. Face, chin, upper throat, and nape are white to pale gray. Adults have a white cheek patch. Legs and toes are black. In general, males and females are virtually indistinguishable, but within a breeding pair, males tend to be larger than females.

Right, a banded Sandhill Crane adult and chick in southern Wisconsin. Photo by Ted Thousand

View examples of banding protocols for Sandhill Cranes in the eastern United States.

Report a banded Sandhill Crane 

Birds Similar to Cranes:

Still not sure which species you observed? There are several birds in North America that resemble cranes and are often mistaken for a crane at first glance (even by biologists!). If you are unsure about what species you are observing, click here for images and descriptions of some birds that are commonly mistaken for cranes.