Cranes Cranes

Scientific Classification

Common Name
Genus Species
Approximately 15 species

Fast Facts

Cranes are tall birds with long legs, necks and usually long bills. They resemble herons and egrets in body shape, but tend to have heavier bodies. Cranes are generally brown, gray, or white in color, although African crowned cranes (Balearica pavonina) feature a striking gold crown of feathers on their heads.
The whooping crane (Grus americana) is the tallest American bird, with adults standing to 1.5 m (5 ft.) tall. Whooping cranes also have wingspans up to 2.1 m (7 ft.).
No data
Cranes are omnivorous, long-legged wading birds that eat a variety of plants and animals. Sandhill cranes (G. canadensis) when in marshy areas, concentrate on seeds, berries, and small invertebrates. Those in dryer regions may eat grains, insects, reptiles, small mammals, and even other birds.
Cranes mainly build nests in marshy areas, although crowned cranes may nest in low trees. Sandhill cranes nest mainly in the Arctic where they build large mounds of vegetation in undisturbed areas. Cranes usually lay 2 eggs at a time. 
Sexual Maturity
No data
Life Span
20–25 or more years; depends on species
Found nearly worldwide except for Oceanus and Central and South America and the southernmost latitudes
No data
Global: Unknown
IUCN: 2 species are listed as Endangered - the whooping crane, Grus americana, and the Mississippi sandhill crane, Oreomystis mana
CITES: 14 species are listed
USFWS: 10 species are listed; includes 2 species listed as Endangered and 1 species listed as Critically Endangered

Fun Facts

  1. Cranes are powerful flyers, with some having the ability to fly over the Himalayas.
  2. During migration cranes fly with their head and neck straight out and their feet and legs straight behind them. They are able to reach heights of 4,900–8,000 meters (16,000–26,000 ft). Their migration is so long and hard that many die from fatigue, hunger, or predation from birds of prey.
  3. Cranes form lifelong monogamous pair bonds.
  4. The mating dance of the crane is spectacular. The birds walk stiffly around each other with quick steps, wings half spread, alternately leaping high in the air.  During this, the cranes bow deeply and stretch. Next, the cranes pick up sticks or blades of grass; throw them in the air, and stab at them with their beak as they come down. Both sexes, mature and immature, take part in the dances.
  5. When males and females call in unison, both point their bills to the sky and the male raises part of his wing over his back and joins the female. The two birds call back and forth for about 10 seconds. Scientists believe these calls reinforce the monogamous pair bond and also serve to defend their territory.

Ecology and Conservation

Cranes face many threats, including excessive hunting and habitat destruction. Sandhill crane populations have been reduced by hunting and by the draining of marshes, which they seek for nesting.

All cranes are protected by international agreement. In the United States, the Florida sandhill crane (G. canadensis pratensis) is considered a threatened species by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.


Ellis, D. H., Gee, G. F., and C. Mirande. Cranes: Their Biology, Husbandry, and Conservation. Dept. Of Int., Washington, D.C., Nat'l Bio. Serv., 1996.

Perrins, C.M. and A. Middleton. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1990.

Johnsgard, P.l. A. Cranes of the World. Bloomington. Indiana University Press. 1983.

Perrins, C.M. and Alex Middleton. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1990.

Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center.