Animals, Science

The Sandhill Crane

Scientific classification
Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Chordata
Class:Aves
Order:Gruiformes
Family:Gruidae
Genus:Antigone
Binomial NameAntigone canadensis

Whether stepping singly across a wet meadow or filling the sky by the hundreds and thousands, Sandhill Cranes have an elegance that draws attention. These tall, gray-bodied, crimson-capped birds breed in open wetlands, fields, and prairies across North America. They group together in great numbers, filling the air with distinctive rolling cries. Mates display to each other with exuberant dances that retain a gangly grace. Sandhill Crane populations are generally strong, but isolated populations in Mississippi and Cuba are endangered.

Migratory subspecies of sandhill cranes breed in the Northern U.S., Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Each winter they undertake long southern journeys to wintering grounds in Florida, Texas, Utah, Mexico, and California. En route, more than three-fourths of all sandhill cranes use migratory staging areas in a single 75-mile stretch along Nebraska’s Platte River.

Diet

Most sandhill cranes live in freshwater wetlands. They are opportunistic eaters that enjoy plants, grains, mice, snakes, insects, or worms.

Reproduction

During mating, pairs vocalize in a behavior known as “unison calling.” They throw their heads back and unleash a passionate duet—an extended litany of coordinated song. Cranes also dance, run, leap high in the air and otherwise cavort around—not only during mating but all year long.

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 nonbreeders. They remain in these flocks until they form breeding pairs between two and seven years old.

Subspecies

Six subspecies have been recognized in recent times, including:

  • Lesser sandhill crane, A. c. canadensis
  • Cuban sandhill crane, A. c. nesiotes
  • Florida sandhill crane, A. c. pratensis
  • Mississippi sandhill crane, A. c. pulla
  • Canadian sandhill crane, A. c. rowani
  • Greater sandhill crane, A. c. tabida

Behavior

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.

Cool Facts

  • The Sandhill Crane’s call is a loud, rolling, trumpeting sound whose unique tone is a product of anatomy: Sandhill Cranes have long tracheas (windpipes) that coil into the sternum and help the sound develop a lower pitch and harmonics that add richness.
  • Sandhill Cranes are known for their dancing skills. Courting cranes stretch their wings, pump their heads, bow, and leap into the air in a graceful and energetic dance.
  • The elegance of cranes has inspired people in cultures all over the world—including the great scientist, conservationist, and nature writer Aldo Leopold, who wrote of their “nobility, won in the march of aeons.”
  • Although some start breeding at two years of age, Sandhill Cranes may reach the age of seven before breeding. They mate for life—which can mean two decades or more—and stay with their mates year-round. Juveniles stick close by their parents for 9 or 10 months after hatching.
  • The earliest Sandhill Crane fossil, estimated to be 2.5 million years old, was unearthed in the Macasphalt Shell Pit in Florida.
  • Sandhill Crane chicks can leave the nest within 8 hours of hatching, and are even capable of swimming.
  • The oldest Sandhill Crane on record was at least 36 years, 7 months old. Originally banded in Wyoming in 1973, it was found in New Mexico in 2010.

The above images were taken at Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado during spring migration, March 2021. (Photo Credit: Lynda Ackert – All Rights Reserved)

Product Suggestion

Notebooking - Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Crane | Notebooking Pages

Students can use these pages to produce a beautiful report or project on these magnificent birds! Includes 5 notebooking pages (one with a North American map) and 1 coloring page.

My Teaching Library has a variety of other notebooking pages for birds! Here are a few:

To see all products to study birds, click here!

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Animals, notebooking, Science

Caribou or Reindeer? Learn about these majestic Arctic Animals!

Caribou or Reindeer?

The Caribou is a wild species of deer often called reindeer when domesticated. They are found in the arctic tundra regions of North America, Asia, Northern Europe, Alaska and Greenland. Caribou can also be seen in sub arctic boreal forests during migration where they take refuge in windy coastal areas from flies and mosquitoes. Typically in northern North America they are called caribou and in northern Europe and Asia are called reindeer. This is because the majority of these animal in Europe and Asia are domesticated.

FUN FACT: Caribou / Reindeer belong to a large group of hoofed ungulate mammals called artiodactyls which also includes camels and giraffes!

Caribou Habitat

Caribou habitats include arctic tundra regions, sub arctic boreal forests and mountainous habitats.

Caribou Description

Caribous are large even toed mammals that measure 4-7 ft (1.2 – 2.2 meters) in length and stand 4-5 ft (1.2 – 1.5 meters) foot at shoulder height. They can weigh between 130-700 lbs (60 – 318 kilograms). Their coats are short, thick and colored brown in summer turning grey in the winter. Their rumps and chests are white and they have blunt, hair-covered muzzles and short tails. Their legs are long and wide and they have flat hooves which act like snowshoes helping them walk on snow and soft ground. Caribou hooves are hollow underneath which enables them to dig snow when searching for food!

Caribous are the only deer species where both male and female have antlers but some females have no antlers. Males have larger and more branched out antlers than females which can extend in size to a little over 3 ft (1 meter). Their antlers grow directly from their skulls and are covered with a thin skin called a ‘velvet’. During the ‘rutting’ season, the velvet on the males antlers disappear. Males use their antlers to fight each other for access to females. Male antlers fall off after the mating season has finished and females lose their antlers during the birthing season. When a caribous antler is broken between April and August when in the ‘velvet’ stage, it loses blood flow to the antler and velvet.

FUN FACT: Caribou have 2 circulation systems in their bodies! The circulation through the legs is up to 50 degrees colder than the circulation system for the rest of their body. Caribous have hollow hairs rooted in a thick layer of fat also to conserve heat during freezing temperatures.

Scientific classification
Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Chordata
Class:Mammalia
Order:Artiodactyla
Family:Cervidae
Genus:Rangifer
Common NameCaribou (Reindeer)

Caribou Diet

Caribous are herbivores and their preferred diet is tundra plant matter including leaves, twigs, moss and lichen known as reindeer moss. When food is abundant, an adult caribou can eat as much as 13 lbs of food per day. When the caribou eats, the food goes down to the caribous first stomach, where it is mashed into small pieces called cud and stored to eat at the caribous next meal. Because caribous can eat large quantities of food they increase their internal heat production to prevent them from freezing in extreme weather conditions.

Caribou Behavior

Caribou undertake one of the most grueling animal migrations of any other terrestrial mammal. Herds of thousands of animals complete a round migration journey of over 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers) visiting spring calving areas and summer and winter feeding grounds. During migration, herds of cows (female caribou) leave several weeks before the males, who follow with yearling calves from the previous birthing season.

Caribous move from region to region, forced on by seasonal availability of tundra plants on which they feed. Caribou frequently cross rivers and lakes during their migration travels. They are very strong swimmers using their wide hooves as paddles and their thick, air-filled coats help them stay buoyant and warm when swimming through the icy waters. In winter months, caribou move to sub arctic boreal forests where the snow covering is less than on open tundra. Here, they can use their wide hooves to dig and graze on the lichen beneath the snow.

Caribou herds can run very fast reaching speeds of 50 miles per hour while migrating. Herds of caribou tend to be larger during spring migration and smaller during autumn when mating occurs.

Male caribous fight during rutting season which can result in serious injuries such as cuts and bruises. The worst that can happen is that their antlers can lock together and caribou who cannot unlock their horns will starve.

Caribou are generally quiet animals, however, they may emit a loud snort. Herds of snorting caribou may sound like a group of pigs. Groups of cows and new born calves are particularly vocal as they constantly communicate with each other.

Caribou predators include wolves, grizzly and black bears, cougars, wolverines, lynx, coyotes and golden eagles.

Caribou Reproduction

Mating season occurs in autumn. Males fight for access to females. Two males will lock their antlers together and try to push each other away. The most dominant males can collect as many as 15 – 20 females to mate with.  A male will stop eating during this time and lose much of its body reserves.

Births take place in May or June the following year on inland calving grounds after a gestation period of 45 days. One calf is born each year with twins being rare.

Calves can run shortly after birth, however, large numbers succumb to predators, in particular, Grey Wolves who track down the migrating herds and stalk the birthing grounds looking for easy prey. The young are able to graze and forage but continue suckling until the following autumn and become independent from their mothers. Caribou become sexually mature at between 1.5 and 3.5 years of age. The life span of a caribou is around 15 years in the wild.

Caribou Conservation Status

Despite their large numbers, caribous are an endangered species. The caribou has a very warm very soft fur that is hollow, insulated and sheds water and snow. This valuable fur was traded for a lot of money in the 1800’s. The caribou population decreased because of over hunting until laws were passed to protect it.

Caribou are susceptible to and recover slowly from population declines because of their low rate of reproduction. The main factors leading to caribou declines are habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, as well as predation (from wolves and humans). Loss of caribou habitat, which is permanent, occurs when forest is cleared for agriculture. Habitat degradation means a reduction in the amount or quality of caribou habitat, as happens following such events as wildfires or timber harvesting, or through human disturbance.

Caribou Notebooking Pages

My Teaching Library offers Caribou Notebooking Pages for students to use when producing a report on these wonderful animals! Students will love using these pages and when they do, their study becomes cross-curricular!

Caribou Reindeer

As a cross-curricular unit, students will need to read (and research) the caribou, write a report, complete map work (geography) and learning about the life of this cute little squirrel (science).

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Animals, Science

Let’s Learn about the Arctic Wolf!

The Arctic wolf also known as the white wolf and the polar wolf! Where does it live? What does it look like? What does it eat? Keep reading to find out the answers to these questions and more!

General Appearance and Behavior

An adult Arctic wolf can weigh between 70 and 125 pounds. A 70-pound wolf is equal to the weight of 4 adult Dachshunds. They range between 2 to 3 feet tall and can be up to 5 feet long including their tail. Think of the average Christmas tree. An Arctic wolf’s body is about three quarters as long as that tree.

The white or sometimes grayish coat of this wolf has two layers. The upper layer gets thicker as the temperature drops in the tundra. The layer of fur closest to the wolf’s skin is waterproof. The waterproof layer of fur helps this wolf to stay dry and maintain its body heat in subzero temperatures.

Along with their insulated fur coats, Arctic wolves have paws with thick pads allowing them to walk on frozen ground. Plus, these pads give them traction on the slippery surfaces they walk and run on. Arctic wolves run while hunting muskoxen or other prey. The fastest recorded speed of an Arctic wolf is 46 mph.

You may think of a wolf as a solitary animal, but Arctic wolves travel in packs of six or so. These wolves live in incredibly cold climates, so they rarely encounter people. Normally, people don’t want to travel to these cold places! They are not aggressive animals unless they are defending their territory from a wolf or another animal.

Habitat of the Arctic Wolf

The Arctic wolf lives in the arctic regions of North America and Greenland. Since they live in these arctic regions year round and these regions have regions have long dark periods that last about 5 months, these wolves have adapted to living in the dark and in the cold. Instead of living in dens in the ground, Arctic wolves live in caves or seek shelter in outcroppings of rocks. The ground in these Arctic areas is always frozen making it impossible for them to dig traditional dens.

Diet

What do Arctic wolves eat? Arctic wolves eat Arctic hares, caribou, lemmings and muskoxen. An Arctic wolf is smaller than its close relative, the gray wolf. So, you may be wondering how a single Arctic wolf could hunt and kill large mammals. The answer is: They don’t hunt alone. A pack of wolves will work together to single out a weak member of a herd of caribou or muskoxen to capture. A large mammal will be eaten by a pack of wolves over the course of a week or so. An Arctic wolf is able to eat about 20 pounds of animal meat in one feeding period. Next time you go to the store, look in the meat department and see just what 20 pounds of meat actually looks and feels like!

Reproduction and Lifespan

In a pack of Arctic wolves, only the alpha of the pack will mate with the beta female. Arctic wolves are known to stay with one mate. This helps to control the number of wolf pups also called whelps, so there will be adequate food available to them. The gestation period is 63 days and the mother gives live birth to 2 to 3 wolf pups. Newborn pups have dark fur and blue irises that change to yellow as they grow older. They weigh about 3 to 4 pounds when they’re born, but quickly start to gain more. Arctic wolves give birth later on in the month of May and sometimes early June. This is different from gray wolves. Gray wolves give birth in the month of April and usually have 4 to 5 pups in a litter.

They are born with their eyes and ears closed, but are able to see and hear within about 12 to 14 days. The pups can crawl around a bit especially when they want to nurse from their mother. In a few weeks, the pups start to nibble on small pieces of chewed food brought to them by their mother.

Arctic wolf pups stay in the cave or den with their mother for about 6 weeks. After 6 weeks, they join in the activities with the pack and are full-grown adults by 8 months. Generally, grown pups stay with the same pack for years.

The average lifespan of male and female Arctic wolves is about 7 years in the wild and 20 years in captivity. One of the most common reasons for the early death of an Arctic wolf is a lack of available food in the harsh climate. There may be a limited amount of food and that’s taken by the alpha male and beta females in a pack. Another reason for early death is injury. Arctic wolves can be injured during hunts or from another wolf or the main predator, the polar bear.

Population

The population of Arctic wolves is about 200,000. They are not considered to be a threatened species and are officially listed as Least Concern. The main reason that Arctic wolves aren’t threatened is they live on the frozen tundra where very few humans travel and where very few other animals can survive. One of the largest populations of these wolves is found in northern Alaska.

My Teaching Library Arctic Wolf Notebooking Pages

Help your students create a beautiful report using the available: Arctic Wolf | Notebooking Pages! Students will love using these pages to create a report on the Arctic wolf. They are also perfect to use during a study of the arctic region, tundra animals or as a cross-curricular unit that will have students reading, writing, completing map work (geography) and learning about the life of this cute little squirrel (science).

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