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The most abundant crane species on Earth, the sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) is renowned for its spectacular mass migrations. A large-bodied bird, the sandhill crane has an impressive wingspan, long black legs and a relatively short bill. Like other cranes, this species has relatively modest colouration, with grey plumage on the body, becoming white or paler grey on the face, chin and upper throat . During the spring and summer, the plumage of sandhill cranes in regions with iron-rich mud acquires a rusty brown hue, due to the bird’s habit of preening the reddish mud into the feathers. This artificial colouration is lost in the autumn when the feathers are moulted. In contrast to the adult, juvenile sandhill cranes are cinnamon brown, becoming grey during the first year. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the sandhill crane is the bare patch of red skin, which covers the forehead and crown. This species produces a range of vocalisations, including a single, loud call to warn or threaten conspecifics, breeding pair synchronised calls, which the strengthen pair bond, and a low, soft call to maintain contact while foraging. Although the taxonomy of this species is debated, there are generally six commonly recognised subspecies of the sandhill crane, which differ greatly in size and weight and occupy separate geographical areas.

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