TYPES OF CRANES

Cranes are beautiful birds and quite majestic in flight. They vary in sizes and weights and they also all have characteristics that make them unique. Currently, there are fifteen species of cranes. Of those fifteen, six of these are on the endangered list:

  • Blue
  • Red-crowned
  • Sarus
  • Siberian
  • Wattled
  • Whooping

Furthermore, five of them are classified as vulnerable:

  • Black-crowned
  • Black-necked
  • Grey-crown
  • Hooded
  • White-naped

Sadly, while natural predators are responsible for killing many cranes, humans are of course the most dangerous. Cranes are hunted for food and/or sport. Unfortunately, crane habitats are also at risk, however; if left alone, cranes can live for up to 30 years in the wild and 80 in captivity.

Conservation efforts to save and protect cranes are constantly in force. The International Crane Foundation has worked since 1973 to make safe crane populations, secure ecosystems and educate the public on these amazing birds.

BLACK CROWNED CRANE

BLACK CROWNED CRANE

The Black-crowned crane is mostly black with distinctive white markings. The head is crowned with golden feathers that are stiff to touch. Their cheek patches can distinguish the region they are from. Males and females look basically the same, although males are usually a bit larger. These cranes are found in Africa in the Sahel and Savanna region, from Senegal and Gambia on the Atlantic coast to the upper Nile River basin in Sudan and Ethiopia.

They live in both wet and dry habitats but prefer freshwater wetlands and grassy marshes. You’ll find their nests to be circular in shape and located in dense wetlands. Females lay 2-5 eggs with an incubation period of 28-31 days. They have a rather loud and booming call. All cranes are omnivores. The diet of the Black-crowned crane consists of grasses, seeds, insects and other small invertebrates.

BLUE CRANE

BLUE CRANE

Blue cranes are one of the smallest species of crane standing around 4-feet high and weighing approximately 11 pounds. Their feathers are blue-silver in color and they are one of two cranes that do not have red, bare skin on their heads. Males and females are difficult to distinguish. The Blue crane is the national bird of South Africa and is only found in the southern region of in the southern region of South Africa.

These birds prefer dry grasslands and shallow waters. They will lay their eggs in higher elevations of grasslands and they lay their eggs on dry ground or in grass. Females usually lay only 2 eggs with an incubation period of 30-33 days. Blue cranes eat waste grains, seeds of sedges, insects and small vertebrates.

BROLGA CRANE

BROLGA CRANE

Brolga cranes have a bare head that is covered with green-gray skin. Their eye color is orange to yellow-orange and their feathers are a light blue gray. Males and females are difficult to distinguish but males are typically larger. The Brolga cranes live throughout northern and eastern Australia and in limited areas of New Guinea. They are non-migratory birds but they will transition depending on the season. During dry seasons, they live mostly in the freshwater wetlands. In the wet seasons they will relocate to freshwater and brackish wetlands.

It’s interesting to note that these cranes have developed physiological and behavioral adaptations in response to Australia’s drastic climate changes. Their nests are made of large mounds of grass and sedge stems and are built in dense, vegetated wetlands. Females usually lay only 2 eggs and the incubation period is 28-31 days. The male is quite protective of the nest and will take a defensive role in protecting the eggs. These cranes gather in large flocks and their diet consists of bulkuru tubers they dig out of the ground, as well as wetland plants, mollusks and frogs.

DEMOISELLE CRANE

DEMOISELLE CRANE

The Demoiselle crane is the smallest and second most abundant of cranes. They grow to only about 3-feet tall and weight 4-7 pounds. Their plumage is blue-gray. They are the other species of crane that does not have bare, red skin on their heads. It is difficult to distinguish between male and females although the males do grow a bit larger. Demoiselle cranes live in 47 different countries and their population is in the tens of thousands. They prefer dry grasslands and will make use of agricultural fields and some wetter areas.

Their nesting areas are located in vegetated areas, off the ground enough to be concealed but not so high they can’t look out while protecting their clutch. Females lay usually 2 eggs and the incubation period is 27-29 days. Demoiselle cranes eat plants, beans, peanuts, insects and small animals.

SIBERIAN CRANE

SIBERIAN CRANE

Plumage on Siberian cranes is mostly white with the exception of primaries which are black. The forecrown, forehead and sides of their heads are bare and red in color. Their eyes are red or pale yellow. While difficult to distinguish between males and females, males are usually larger and females have smaller beaks. This species of crane is critically endangered. The last sighting of this crane during winter occurred in 2002 in India. The Siberian crane is the most highly specialized species in terms of habitat, morphology and behavior. Their vocalization is also unique in that it is a loud, rattling sound. They live exclusively in wetlands making them the most aquatic.

They nest in marshes and bogs preferring wide open areas of shallow fresh water. Females typically lay 2 eggs and incubation lasts 29 days. Males do take a dominant role in protecting the nest. The Siberian Crane diet consists of rodents, fish, cranberries and insects. They also tend to dig holes in search of tubers. When not in breeding season, they are usually strict vegetarians.

HOODED CRANE

HOODED CRANE

The crown of the Hooded Crane is not feathered and covered with black, hair-like bristles. The head and neck are white while the body plumage is gray in color. It is difficult to distinguish between male and females but males are usually a bit larger. Russia and northern China are the breeding grounds of the Hooded Crane but small numbers are found in southern Japan.

They prefer sphagnum bogs, forested wetlands and mossy areas. Their nests are constructed of moss, leaves, sedge stalks and branches of certain trees. Females usually only lay two eggs and the incubation period last 27-30 days. Males do take the dominant role in protecting the nest and clutch. For their diet, Hooded Cranes prefer berries, grass, seeds and small animals. Japan and Korea both have feeding stations that consist of wheat, rice and other grains.

SARUS CRANE

SARUS CRANE

These are the tallest of all crane species averaging about six feet tall. They have a wing span of eight feet. The crown is covered with a green-tinted skin and their body plumage is gray in color. Rough, orange/red skin covers their head, throat and neck areas. The location of the Indian Sarus Crane includes the plains of northern, northwestern, and western India and the western half of Nepal’s Terai Lowlands with a small population in Pakistan.

The Eastern Sarus Crane sightings in China are extremely rare and the Australian Sarus Crane are of course sighted in Australia. Sarus Cranes are typically non-migratory birds but will relocate during wet and dry seasons. It is interesting to note that the Indian Sarus Cranes are tolerated in the dense population of India and interact with humans often. They nest in various areas but consistently prefer vegetated wetlands. Females usually lay only 2 eggs with an incubation period of 31-34 days and males do take a dominant role in protecting the nest and clutch. These cranes have a diet that consists of aquatic plants, grains, insects and small vertebrates.

GREY CROWNED

GREY CROWNED

They Grey Crowned Crane has gray body plumage with white wings with feathers ranging from brown to gold. Atop their heads are golden colored feathers and they have white cheek patches. Their locations range from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Kenya to southeastern South Africa.

While they are typically non-migratory, they have been known to transition during different seasons. They have a loud, honking call. Their nests are large and constructed a platform of grass and other plants. Females lay between 2-5 eggs with an incubation period of 28-31 days. They prefer to eat the tips of grasses, insects, groundnuts, maize and small vertebrates.

WATTLED CRANE

WATTLED CRANE

Wattled Cranes can grow to about six feet tall and weigh only fourteen pounds. Their back and wings are an ash gray color. Above the eyes ad on the crown the color is slate gray. Their wattles are almost fully feathered. They live in eleven sub-Saharan countries in Africa including a population that is rather isolated in the highlands of Ethiopia.

Their migratory habits aren’t well-known but it does appear they do have some movements that are more dictated by temperature than by season. Their nests are somewhat haphazardly constructed in grasses along the borders of marshes. Females sometimes lay 2 eggs but often only one chick will survive. The incubation period is 33-36 days. Wattled Cranes eat a diet of aquatic vegetation, grains, grass, seeds and insects.

WHOOPING CRANE

WHOOPING CRANE

These cranes have a red patch on their forehead, a black “mustache” and black wing tips. There are two distinct migratory populations. They summer in northwestern Canada and central Wisconsin and winter along the Gulf Coast of Texas and the southeastern United States. There is one population that does not migrate and they are located in central Florida and on the coast of Louisiana.

They make a whooping sound hence their name. The Whooping Crane is one of two species found in the U.S. They are dangerously close to extinction with only 603 known to be alive with 161 of those being captive. They nest near to the ground, usually in a marshy area and females lay 1-2 eggs with an incubation period of 29-31 days. Both parents are diligent in protecting their clutch. The Whooping Crane diet consist of insects, reptiles, amphibians and plant tubers.

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