The Spiritual Significance of the Sandhill Crane: A Closer Look

2 cranes walking main

Sandhill cranes, named after the Sandhills in Nebraska, are the most common kind of crane. Sandhills have a distinctive batch of red on their forehead among white feathers.  Their loud cries and wide wingspans also stand out.  Sandhills symbolize beauty and grace, fidelity and romance, good health, and peace.  Native Americans used and honored them from ancient times. Cranes are also popular tattoos, both for their art and symbolism.  

1000 Origami Cranes 

A crane is a mystical creature in Japan that is believed to be able to live a thousand years.  Paper cranes, a form of origami (paper folding), are symbolically released to promote healing, peace, and as a sign of good luck.  You might have seen this beautiful act yourself.

Cranes, like many birds, have lots of symbolism.  There are lots of different kinds of cranes.  Sandhill cranes are common sights in North America.  Let’s delve in.  

Some Basic Facts 

Sandhills are the most common of all the world’s cranes and are found mainly in North America.  They are named after the Sandhills in Nebraska, where many travel during spring migration.  

Sandhill cranes are large birds with long, thin legs and necks.  Their bills are longer than their small heads.  They are about four feet tall with a very wide wingspan.  

One of their most noticeable features is a batch of red on the forehead among white feathers.  

Sandhills favor very large flocks, including tens of thousands when they migrate.  They spend most of their time in wetlands and eat primarily plants and grains.  

They perform an elaborate mating dance.  Sandhills mate for life but if a partner dies will find a new partner.  They do get confused.  Cranes have been known to attack their own reflections.  

Cranes in the Bible 

Cranes were familiar sights in the ancient world.  

The writers of the Bible, who lived in the Middle East, noticed these large majestic birds fly through the air. Flocks passed over Palestine in such large numbers that they darkened the sky.  

The prophet Isaiah spoke about how he “cried out like a crane.”  Cranes have a piercing cry.  Both the males and female sandhill cranes make a rattling “kar-r-r-r- o-o-o” sound.  

Jeremiah references the crane’s migratory habits.  Cranes keep a steady migration cycle. On the other hand, “the rules of the Lord” are mysterious and known own by God himself.  

Native Americans 

Cranes have been used and honored since ancient times.  Archeologists found the remains of crane bones used by the Anasazi People of New Mexico that were over 1,000 years old.  

They have been used as food, their bones used to make tools, and the Navajo use the skulls and beaks of sandhill cranes to make medicine spoons.   Crane feathers are protected by federal law just like eagle feathers because of their religious significance to many tribes.  

Native Americans often treat cranes as totems, special animals that provide symbolic meaning and significance.  Cranes are honored as spokespersons and messengers because of their distinctive calls.  Legends arose of warriors who could ride on their wide wingspans. 

Happiness and Long Life 

Sandhill cranes are honored for their beauty and grace.  They symbolize happiness and long life.  This makes sense.  A sandhill crane can live over thirty years in the wild.

What is more important to a happy life than love?  The mating dances of sandhill cranes inspire people.  Cranes are symbols of love and commitment.  But, sometimes love ends, and loved ones die.  Cranes also symbolize being able to start anew.  And, find happiness again after sadness.  

Cranes are good luck charms.  They are signs of good fortune and fertility. 

Trust and Friendship 

Cranes also can symbolize trust and fidelity.  They fly together in large groups and are able to work together.  They symbolize peace and everlasting friendship.   

Cranes can have deep spiritual meaning.  The symbolic meanings of cranes are the traits that world religions honor as fundamental.  This includes their wisdom and healing powers.

I have seen some people say that Hindus find cranes unlucky. Perhaps, some do.  Nonetheless, many Hindus from ancient times honored them as much as everyone else seems to do. 

Asian Symbolism  

The biblical references are but one of many ways cranes were symbolically used in ancient European and Asian cultures.  Cranes were found in many Greek and Roman myths.

Ancient China honored cranes as symbols of long life, peace, and protection. The robes of civil officials had cranes on them to represent their ranks.  

We have seen how the Japanese believed cranes symbolized peace, hope, and healing.  Hawaii adopted these traditions, including using 1001 paper cranes (one extra for luck!) at weddings. 


Body art, including tattoos, has been an important means of personal expression from primitive times.  The body provides a personal canvas for self-expression. 


Sandhill cranes are a popular subject for tattoos.  These graceful birds often provide much inspiration, including for large intricate body art.  Check out some photos here.  

The beauty of the artwork alone provides a reason to have crane tattoos.  They also have many different symbolic meanings, including beauty, youth, and good fortune.  

Paper Cranes and the Real Thing 

The first thing I thought about while writing this entry are paper cranes.  The often quite beautiful origami cranes are a fitting image for a discussion about the symbolism of cranes.


If a paper crane is impressive, you can understand why the real thing has inspired so many people for such a long time.  Sandhill cranes are particularly familiar to us in North America.  We watch and honor these graceful creatures like people worldwide have done for ages.

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