Sandhill cranes winter in north Walton County

More than two dozen sandhill cranes are wintering in North Walton County. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

More than two dozen sandhill cranes are wintering in North Walton County. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Winter visitors a welcome sight for local bird lovers

For the last several years, migrating sandhill cranes have been spending the winter months in north Walton County in Paxton. Foraging in a wetland area and private pasture near Lake Jackson, more than 24 sandhill cranes spend several months in the area every year.

Typically migrating in mid-December and staying until mid-March, the cranes are a welcome sight.

Lesser sandhill cranes have a wingspan of up to 78 inches and stand more than 3 feet tall. Lori Ceier

Lesser sandhill cranes have a wingspan of up to 78 inches and stand more than 3 feet tall. Lori Ceier

With a wingspan of 73 inches and standing more than 41 inches tall, the sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) is one of the largest birds in North America. There are several subspecies of the sandhill crane with the Lesser Sandhill (Northern) migrating from the northern U.S. and the Greater Sandhill (Southern) year-round residents in southern Florida.

Sandhill cranes are omnivores, eating mostly grains and seeds, some insects, other invertebrates, and small vertebrates. The cranes are primarily birds of open fresh water wetlands, but the different subspecies utilize habitats that range from bogs, meadows, and open grasslands.

Sandhill Cranes are heavy bodied, long-necked, long-legged birds with bugling calls, often heard well before the birds are seen. The birds are also known for their elaborate courtship dancing. They are among the oldest living birds.

Information courtesy National Audubon Society, Cornell Lab or Ornithology, and International Crane Foundation.

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