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

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
  • The Norfolk Cranes' Story

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

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

    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

    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

    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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