Gruidae – Cranes

Blue Crane Grus paradisea ©Trevor Hardaker Website

The Gruidae or cranes are a family of large, long-legged and long-necked birds in the group Gruiformes. There are fifteen species of crane in just two genera. Unlike the similar-looking but unrelated herons, cranes fly with necks outstretched, not pulled back. Cranes live on all continents except Antarctica and South America.

They are opportunistic feeders that change their diet according to the season and their own nutrient requirements. They eat a range of items from suitably sized small rodents, fish, amphibians, and insects to grain, berries, and plants.

Cranes construct platform nests in shallow water, and typically lay two eggs at a time. Both parents help to rear the young, which remain with them until the next breeding season.

Some species and populations of cranes migrate over long distances; others do not migrate at all. Cranes are solitary during the breeding season, occurring in pairs, but during the non-breeding season they are gregarious, forming large flocks where their numbers are sufficient.

Most species of cranes have been affected by human activities and are at the least classified as threatened, if not critically endangered. The plight of the whooping cranes of North America inspired some of the first US legislation to protect endangered species.

According to the IOC there are 15 extant crane species. They are:

Grey Crowned Crane Balearica regulorum
Black Crowned Crane Balearica pavonina

Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus
Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis
White-naped Crane Grus vipio
Sarus Crane Grus antigone
Brolga Grus rubicunda
Demoiselle Crane Grus virgo
Blue Crane Grus paradisea
Wattled Crane Grus carunculata
Red-crowned Crane Grus japonensis
Whooping Crane Grus americana
Common Crane Grus grus
Hooded Crane Grus monacha
Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis

Species Links
  • Black-crowned Crane Balearica pavonia

    Species Account
    The black crowned crane (Balearica pavonina) is a bird in the crane family Gruidae.…
  • Black-crowned Crane Balearica pavonia

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Black-crowned Crane Balearica pavonia

    BirdLife Species Account
    Full species account...
  • Black-crowned Crane Balearica pavonia

    IUCN Species Status
  • Blue Crane Anthropoides paradiseus

    BirdLife Species Account
    Full species account...
  • Blue Crane Anthropoides paradiseus

    IUCN Species Status
  • Blue Crane Anthropoides paradiseus

    Species Account
    The blue crane (Anthropoides paradiseus), also known as the Stanley crane and the paradise crane, is the national bird of South Africa.
  • Blue Crane Grus paradiseus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Common Cranes Grus grus

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Common Cranes Grus grus

    HBW Species Account
  • Common Cranes Grus grus

    IUCN Species Status
  • Common Cranes Grus grus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Common Cranes Grus grus

    Species Account
    The common crane (Grus grus), also known as the Eurasian crane, is a bird of the family Gruidae, the cranes. The scientific name is from the Latin; grus, "crane".
  • Grey-crowned Crane Balearica regulorum

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Grey-crowned Crane Balearica regulorum

    Species Account
    The grey crowned crane (Balearica regulorum) is a bird in the crane family Gruidae. It occurs in dry savannah in Africa south of the Sahara, although it nests in somewhat wetter habitats. They can also be found in marshes, cultivated lands and grassy flatlands near rivers and lakes in Uganda and Kenya and as far south as South Africa.
  • Grey-crowned Crane Balearica regulorum

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Anthropoïdes Regulorum E. T. Bennett, 1834, South Africa. Formerly considered conspecific with B. pavonina (lumped species sometimes erroneously listed as B. regulorum), but differences revealed by electrophoresis, together with those in vocalizations, bare parts and plumage, as well as in genetic evidence, advocate recognition of two species. Two subspecies recognized.
  • Grey-crowned Crane Balearica regulorum

    Species Account
    Image and profile...
  • Grey-crowned Crane Balearica regulorum

    IUCN Species Status
  • Grey-crowned Crane Balearica regulorum

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile…
  • Hooded Crane Grus monacha

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Hooded Crane Grus monacha

    IUCN Species Status
  • Hooded Crane Grus monacha

    Species Account
    The hooded crane (Grus monacha) is a small, dark crane. It has a grey body. The top of the neck and head is white, except for a patch of bare red skin above the eye. It is one of the smallest cranes, but is still a fairly large bird, at 1 m (3.3 ft) long, a weight of 3.7 kg (8.2 lbs) and a wingspan of 1.87 m (6.2 ft).
  • Hooded Crane Grus monacha

    HBW Species Account
  • Hooded Crane Grus monacha

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Red-Crowned Crane Grus japonensis

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Red-Crowned Crane Grus japonensis

    Species Account
    The Red-crowned Crane is a stately long-legged, long-necked bird whose immaculate snow-white plumage is accented by black secondary feathers, a black neck with contrasting white nape, and a red crown…
  • Red-Crowned Crane Grus japonensis

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Ardea (Grus) Japonensis Statius Müller, 1776, Japan. Subspecies status formerly suggested for mainland and Japanese breeding populations, based on differences in vocalization patterns; some variation between these populations in morphology, coloration and egg size, but preliminary DNA analysis has shown no significant genetic distinction. Monotypic.
  • Red-Crowned Crane Grus japonensis

    IUCN Species Status
  • Red-Crowned Crane Grus japonensis

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis

    HBW Species Account
  • Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis

    IUCN Species Status
  • Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis

    Species Account
    The sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) is a species of large crane of North America and extreme northeastern Siberia. The common name of this bird refers to habitat like that at the Platte River, on the edge of Nebraska's Sandhills on the American Plains. This is the most important stopover area for the nominotypical subspecies, the lesser sandhill crane (Grus canadensis canadensis), with up to 450,000 of these birds migrating through annually.
  • Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis

    Cornell Species Account
    Whether stepping singly across a wet meadow or filling the sky by the hundreds and thousands, Sandhill Cranes have an elegance that draws attention.
  • Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus

    Species Account
    The Siberian crane (Leucogeranus leucogeranus), also known as the Siberian white crane or the snow crane, is a bird of the family Gruidae, the cranes. They are distinctive among the cranes, adults are nearly all snowy white, except for their black primary feathers that are visible in flight and with two breeding populations in the Arctic tundra of western and eastern Russia.
  • Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus

    IUCN Species Status
  • Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species profile...
  • Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile.…
  • Wattled Crane Grus carunculatus

    Species Account
    Within southern Africa the wattled crane has a fragmented range. One population extends from Natal to the eastern Transvaal and Swaziland. A second population occurs in the Zimbabwe highlands. All these birds are more or less resident and inhabit permanent wetlands…
  • Wattled Crane Grus carunculatus

    HBW Species Account
  • Wattled Crane Grus carunculatus

    IUCN Species Status
  • Wattled Crane Grus carunculatus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Wattled Crane Grus carunculatus

    Species Account
    The wattled crane (Grus carunculata) is a large bird found in Africa, south of the Sahara Desert. It is often placed in the monotypic genus Bugeranus, though some authorities place it with other crane species in the genus Grus.
  • Whooping Crane Grus americana

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Whooping Crane Grus americana

    IUCN Species Status
  • Whooping Crane Grus americana

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Whooping Crane Grus americana

    Species Account
    The whooping crane (Grus americana), the tallest North American bird, is an endangered crane species named for its whooping sound. In 2003, there were about 153 pairs of whooping cranes. Along with the sandhill crane, it is one of only two crane species found in North America.
  • Whooping Crane Grus americana

    Cornell Species Account
    The Whooping Crane is the tallest bird in North America and one of the most awe-inspiring, with its snowy white plumage, crimson cap, bugling call, and graceful courtship dance.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 15

Useful Reading
  • A Chorus of Cranes – The Cranes of North America and the World

    By Paul A Johnsgard | Illustrated by Thomas D Mangelsen | University Press of Colorado | Paperback | Nov 2015 | 226 Pages | 35 Colour and 41 Black & White Illustrationss |
    See Fatbirder Review ISBN: 9781607324362 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • The Norfolk Cranes' Story

    by John Buxton & Chris Durdin - Wren Publishing 2011 ISBN: 9780954254551 Buy this book from NHBS.com
Organisations
  • European Crane Working Group

    Website
    Common Crane Grus grus - Welcome in the World of the Cranes
  • International Crane Foundation

    Website
    Cranes are a family of birds that have long been revered by people living near them. In Japan, the cranes are honored as symbols of long life and a happy marriage. In Viet Nam, cranes are believed to carry the souls of the dead to heaven. In North America, Africa, and Australia, native inhabitants have incorporated the crane`s graceful movements into their own dances and regard cranes as auspicious symbols.
  • UK Crane Working Group

  • Whooping Crane Conservation Association

    Website
    The serious plight of the Whooping Crane population alarmed some people many years ago. In response a small loosely organized group of “pen pals” initiated the “Whooper Club” in the 1950’s. This small group of individuals along the great bird’s flyway in the United States and Canada commenced urging government agencies on both sides of the border to do something to halt the demise of Whooping Cranes. Eventually the Whooper Club became the Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA) in 1961.
Other Links
  • The Norfolk Cranes' Story

    Website
    The cranes’ story starts with their arrival at Horsey in 1979. Their first nesting attempt was in 1981 and the first chick fledged in 1982. From this slow start in the Broads, the re-colonisation of this iconic wetland bird is now taking small but steady steps forwards elsewhere in the UK…

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