What Happens When a Sandhill Cranes Mate Dies

Sandhill cranes are fascinating birds known for their long migrations and long-term pair bonding. While most sandhill cranes mate for life, there are a few exceptions, and not all pairs are truly monogamous.

Sandhill Cranes pair bonding

Sandhill crane pairs are considered socially monogamous, meaning that mated birds form long-term bonds and share the responsibility of caring for their young. However, mating and egg fertilization outside of the bonded pair do occasionally occur. Most pair formations last until the loss of a mate, but divorce can happen if a nest is lost or if reproduction is unsuccessful. Reproduction plays a crucial role in strengthening pair bonds, as cranes prefer to stay with a mate that can produce strong and successful colts.

Throughout this article, we will delve into greater detail about sandhill crane mating and pair formation. Let’s explore!

Why do Sandhill Cranes mate for life?

Sandhill cranes likely mate for life to ensure the success of their offspring. Crane colts begin running and following their parents to forage just hours after hatching. They remain with their parents for 9 to 10 months, joining them in the fall migration. By sticking together, both parents provide a safety net for their vulnerable hatchlings outside of the nest. Additionally, staying together for an extended period makes it easier for both parents to share the responsibilities of caring for and protecting their young.

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How do Sandhill Cranes attract a mate?

Pair formation in sandhill cranes usually happens during spring migration. Male cranes perform a courtship dance to catch the attention of females. Once a bonded pair forms, separation is unlikely unless one mate dies. Let’s take a closer look at courtship and pair bonding.

Courtship behavior

Male cranes attract the attention of females by performing a courtship dance. Eight courtship displays occur between potential or bonded pairs. Three displays are exclusive to paired adults, including non-aggressive calls, bill up, and copulation. These displays strengthen pair bonds and ensure reproduction.

The remaining five displays are performed by all sandhill cranes, whether they are paired or not. Three of these displays aim to attract attention and include the horizontal head pump, vertical toss, and upright wing stretch. Males primarily use the wing stretch to get noticed by females, while both sexes utilize the horizontal head pump. The vertical toss is thought to precede courtship dancing.

Dancing itself consists of the bow and vertical leap. Once a male grabs a female’s attention, both engage in a courtship dance. It’s important to note that dancing also occurs outside of courtship, as sandhill cranes dance year-round, sometimes even with an entire flock participating.

Pair formation

Pair formation in sandhill cranes can happen as early as 2 to 3 years of age, but most cranes don’t mate and start producing successive nests until they reach 5 or 6 years old. By the age of 8, nearly all birds are paired. Once a bonded pair forms, adult sandhill cranes rarely separate unless a nest is lost or reproduction fails. Even after the loss of a nest, most mated pairs remain together.

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Young sandhill cranes, before the age of 5 or 6, may occasionally separate and find new partners as they begin taking part in courtship behaviors and nesting. However, separation without any notable cause is extremely rare among mature adults.

How many times a year do Sandhill Cranes mate?

Sandhill cranes only mate and produce a clutch once a year. If the first nest is unsuccessful early in the breeding season, a pair may re-nest and try to raise another clutch. Sandhill cranes don’t produce more than one successful clutch in a year due to time constraints. The colts remain with their parents for 9 to 10 months, following them on their winter migration.

What happens when a Sandhill Crane mate dies?

When a sandhill crane mate dies, the surviving crane will seek out a new partner. If the loss occurs early in the breeding season, the crane may form a new pair bond and breed in the same season. If the loss happens later in the year, the surviving mate may wait until spring migration, when most new pairs are formed, to pair up again.

Do Sandhill Cranes mourn the loss of a mate?

Little is known about whether or not sandhill cranes mourn the loss of a mate. However, it is not unlikely that they do mourn. Studies have shown that mated pairs mourn and perform rituals around the loss of their young. Furthermore, other bird species, including other crane species, exhibit mourning behavior when a mate dies.

Do female Sandhill Cranes mate with each other?

Female sandhill cranes do not mate with each other or appear to form pair bonds. However, it’s possible for two females to perform courtship displays toward one another, perhaps as a way of preparing to find a mate. Further research is needed in this area.

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