Do you know the oldest sandhill crane fossil is estimated to be more than 2 million years old? Sandhill cranes are tall, heavy-bodied wading birds with long legs and an S-curved neck. Some other birds are out there that look like sandhill cranes, which may confuse you.
So, you need to know which birds look like cranes? Sandhill crane look-alike birds are great blue herons, American white ibises, reddish egrets, Eurasian spoonbills, white storks, greater flamingos, grey herons, limpkins, tricolored herons, and crane species, like whooping cranes.
Want to know some pelican look-alike birds? I have already published an article on similar birds to American white pelicans. Once you finish reading this post, we suggest you take a look at that article. Maybe, you’ll be introduced to such birds that you never see before.
Now, let’s see the list of sandhill crane look-alike birds below.
Birds That Look Similar to Sandhill Cranes
1. Great Blue Heron
Great blue herons are large wading birds commonly found in most of North America, the Caribbean, Central America, and southern Europe. These birds are usually available in open coasts, riverbanks, marshes, lakes, sloughs, freshwater wetlands, and agricultural fields.
- Great blue herons are tall and greyish-blue overall.
- They have long, orangish-yellow, dagger-like bills.
- They have an S-curved neck and a black crown.
- Breeding adults have shaggy plumes on the back and chest.
- They have black flight feathers visible in flight.
Both sandhill cranes and great blue herons are wading birds. These birds have S-curved necks and small heads. They also have straighter and longer bills than their heads. In both cases, you’ll notice long legs and similar types of feet.
The most noticeable difference between sandhill cranes and great blue herons is their plumage color. Sandhill cranes are grey overall with some tan feathers, but great blue herons have greyish-blue plumage. While sandhill cranes have orangish-yellow bills and a black crown, great blue herons have black bills and a red crown.
2. American White Ibis
American white ibises are usually found in most of the coastal areas of the United States and Canada. These birds breed in Central America, the Caribbean, the Atlantic Coast, and the coasts of Mexico. They’re mostly available in freshwater marshes, estuaries, mudflats, and swamps.
- White ibises have overall white plumage and football-shaped bodies.
- They have long, bright red-orange, down-curved bills.
- They have long, bright red legs and a long, S-curved neck.
- They have black wingtips only visible in flight.
- Their faces have a bare red patch around their eyes.
American white ibises are wading birds similar to sandhill cranes. The similarities are between these two bird species are S-curved necks, small heads, long bills, long legs with multiple toes, and almost the same body structures.
In terms of body size, American white ibises are much smaller than sandhill cranes. As the name suggests, American while ibises have entirely white plumage, while sandhill cranes have grey plumage with some tan body feathers. Sandhill cranes have black legs, but American white ibises have bright red legs.
3. Reddish Egret
Only 1.5k to 2.0k nesting pairs of reddish egrets are out there in the United States (source: Texas Parks and Wildlife). In addition to the US, these birds are also found in Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. They’re mostly available in mudflats, ponds, and coastal lagoons.
- Reddish egrets have dark-grey plumage with an S-curved reddish neck.
- They have long, pointed bills with a black tip.
- They have long, bluish-black legs and feet.
- Breeding adults have pink on the base of the bill.
- Nonbreeding adults have a slate-grey body and shaggy plumes on the neck.
Reddish egrets have long, pointed bills, just like sandhill cranes. Other similarities between these two bird species are S-curved necks, small heads, round eyes, long legs with multiple toes, and blackish wingtips.
The most noticeable difference between these two species is their appearance. Reddish egrets have dark-grey plumage, while sandhill cranes have grey plumage with some tan feathers. Besides, sandhill cranes are much larger than reddish egrets.
4. Eurasian Spoonbill
Eurasian spoonbills, also known as common spoonbills, are found in the United Kingdom, North Africa, Japan, and some European countries, including Spain, Netherlands, Austria, Greece, and Hungary. These birds prefer marshes, rivers, lakes, mangroves, and flooded areas.
- Eurasian spoonbills have white plumage throughout the body.
- They have long, black bills with a yellow tip.
- They have long, dark legs with multiple toes.
- They have black wingtips only visible in flight.
- Breeding adults have a long, shaggy crest and a yellowish breast patch.
Eurasian spoonbills have long, black legs like sandhill cranes have. Both bird species come up with S-curved necks, small heads, and rounded eyes. These birds also have black wingtips only visible when they’re in the sky. They can also be confused with white egrets when sleeping.
In terms of appearance, Eurasian spoonbills and sandhill cranes are different from each other. Eurasian spoonbills have entirely white plumage, while sandhill cranes have grey plumage with some tan feathers. While sandhill cranes have long, dagger-like bills, Eurasian spoonbills have spoon-shaped bills.
5. White Stork
White storks are large wading birds, which have two sub-species: African white storks and European white storks. These birds are found in Northern and Southern Africa and Central and Eastern Europe. They prefer riverbanks, swamps, ditches, marshes, meadows, and grasslands.
- White storks have white plumage with black wingtips and wing coverts.
- They have long, pointed, red bills.
- They have long, red legs with multiple toes.
- They have long, slender necks and small heads.
- The feathers on the chest are shaggy.
In terms of body size, white storks are pretty similar to sandhill cranes. Apart from that, white storks have S-curved necks, small heads, long legs with multiple toes, and long bills, almost the same as sandhill cranes have.
White storks differ from sandhill cranes in appearance. While white storks have white plumage with black wing coverts, sandhill cranes are grey with some tan feathers. Besides, the bills of white storks are larger than those of sandhill cranes.
6. Greater Flamingo
Greater flamingos, the largest in the flamingo family, are mostly found in Southern Europe, Northern Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East. These birds are usually out there around different types of water sources to feed on underwater food sources.
- Greater flamingos have pinkish-white plumage with black wingtips.
- They have long, thin, S-curved necks.
- They have bright pink bills with a black tip.
- Their heads are relatively small compared to their body.
- The legs are long, thin, and entirely pink.
Both greater flamingos and sandhill cranes have long, S-curved necks and legs. These birds also have relatively small heads compared to their body. Most importantly, both species are pretty similar in terms of body size.
Greater flamingos have pink plumage, while sandhill cranes have grey plumage with some tan feathers. In addition, sandhill cranes have black bills and legs, but greater flamingos have pink bills with a black tip and pale pink legs. The bills of greater flamingos are different.
7. Grey Heron
Grey herons are native to the temperate regions of Europe, Asia, and some parts of Africa. These birds are also known as vagrants in the Caribbean and Bermuda. They usually prefer lakes, rivers, ponds, marshes, seashores, mountain tarns, reservoirs, and ditches.
- Grey herons have ashy-grey plumage above and greyish-white plumage below.
- They have a slender neck and a relatively small head.
- They have bluish-black streaks on the throat.
- The orangish-yellow bills are long and straight.
- The eyes are rounded yellow, and the legs are long brown.
First of all, both grey herons and sandhill cranes are wading birds but prefer to stay in different areas. When it comes to physical similarities, both species have long legs, dagger-like bills, S-curved necks, relatively small heads, and rounded eyes.
Grey herons are a bit smaller than sandhill cranes when they’re on the ground. While grey herons have ash-grey plumage, sandhill cranes have grey plumage with some tan feathers. Grey herons also have yellowish bills and legs, but the legs and bills of sandhill cranes are black.
8. Limpkin Bird
Limpkins are heron-sized birds found in Florida, the Caribbean, Mexico, and other Central American regions. They prefer to stay in freshwater wetlands. However, they can be seen in agricultural areas, like ditches, cane fields, and swampy forests to forage for food.
- Limpkins are uniformly rich brown with white spotting throughout the body.
- They have a football-shaped, heavy body.
- They have long, yellow, slightly downward bills.
- Their necks are S-curved and mostly white.
- The legs are long and slightly black.
Limpkins have S-curved necks and relatively small heads like sandhill cranes. The legs of limpkins are also black, although you can differentiate them. When it comes to body structures, both birds have similar types of bodies.
In terms of coloration and size, limpkins are different from sandhill cranes. While limpkins have brown plumage with white spotting, sandhill cranes have grey plumage with some tan feathers. Besides, the bills of limpkins are a bit larger and thicker.
9. Tricolored Heron
Tricolored herons, formerly known as Louisiana herons, are native to the coastal areas of the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. These birds are found in estuaries, lake edges, fresh and saltwater marshes, lagoons, mangroves, canals, and ditches.
- Tricolored herons come up with a mix of blue-grey, lavender, and purple.
- They have a distinctive white belly and down-neck stripes.
- They have a long, S-curved neck curved up to their small heads.
- They have long, dagger-like bills and long legs.
- Nonbreeding adults have yellowish legs.
Tricolored herons are pretty similar to great blue herons. That’s why they can be confused with sandhill cranes from a distance. Both tricolored herons and sandhill cranes have S-curved necks, small heads, rounded eyes, long, dagger-like bills, etc.
While tricolored herons have a mix of blue-grey, lavender, and purple plumage, sandhill cranes have grey plumage with some tan feathers. Besides, the bills of tricolored herons are orangish-yellow. On the other hand, sandhill cranes own slightly black bills.
10. Whooping Crane
Whooping cranes are one of the tallest wading birds in North America. These birds are commonly found in many US states, like Wisconsin, Florida, and Louisiana, and some Canadian provinces. Estuaries, grassy wetland, coastal marshes, and crop fields are their favorite places.
- Whooping cranes have bright white plumage overall.
- They have long, straight, slightly black bills.
- They have red patches on their heads and throughout their faces.
- Their necks are long and S-shaped.
- The wingtips are black like most other wading birds.
Whooping cranes and sandhill cranes belong to the same crane family, Gruidae. They’re quite similar in body structures, bills, S-curved necks, relatively small heads, rounded eyes, and the red patches on the head and throughout the faces.
The most noticeable difference between both crane species is whooping cranes have entirely white plumage. Apart from that, the legs of whooping cranes are yellow, while sandhill cranes have black legs. Also, the red patches cover more areas of the faces of whooping cranes.
Now that you know the birds that look like cranes, identifying sandhill crane look-alike species will be easier for you. In appearance, whooping cranes are close to sandhill cranes, as both birds belong to the same crane family.
Among other similar birds, great blue herons and tricolored herons look pretty like sandhill cranes from afar. However, American white ibises, reddish egrets, Eurasian spoonbills, white storks, greater flamingos, grey herons, and limpkins can easily be differentiated.