There are many types of cranes spread across continents. Each of the 15 species of the Gruidae family exhibits distinct characteristics, from their varied habitats and diets to their particular behaviors.
Studying these birds is a rewarding challenge for bird lovers and curious minds. There is always something new to learn about these fascinating creatures. Read on to learn more.
Related Read: Bird Facts.
15 Types of Crane Birds
1. Red-crowned Crane (Grus japonensis)
The Red-crowned Crane, also known as the Japanese Crane, is a rare and beautiful bird species that typically inhabits the wetlands of East Asia.
It has a striking red crown, brilliant white plumage, jet-black wingtips, and a long, greenish bill. The crane can grow up to 5.2 feet tall and weigh between 17 and 22 pounds.
It symbolizes luck, longevity, and fidelity in Japan. Despite being one of the rarest crane species in the world, the Red-crowned Cranes have adapted to a wide range of environments and food sources and are known for their elegant courtship displays.
2. Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis)
The Sandhill Crane lives in marshes, pastures, grasslands, and crop fields. They stand tall at 4 feet and have a unique facial appearance with a vivid red forehead, a pointed bill, and a dark gray body.
Likewise, they have a varied diet, including seeds, grains, insects, small mammals, and even reptiles. Sandhill Cranes remains loyal to its partners for life.
Their bugle call echoes over long distances. Migration is essential to their life cycle; they leave North America and Siberia as winter sets in, migrating to the southern U.S. and Mexico.
3. Whooping Crane (Grus americana)
The Whooping Crane is a large bird species in North America, known for its trumpet-like sound and striking white and black plumage. With a height of 5 feet, it is one of the largest birds on the continent.
This crane bird flies annually from Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada to the warmer climate of Texas's Gulf Coast, spanning 2,500 miles.
The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge provides a haven for these birds during the winter, and young cranes learn the migration path from their parents and other older flock members. Moreover, Whooping Cranes eat crustaceans, small fish, and plant matter.
4. Common Crane (Grus grus)
The Common Crane is native to Northern Europe and Asia. With a height of up to 4.3 feet and a wingspan of 7.9 feet, it boasts grey plumage with black feathers, a red and white head, and elongated legs, neck, and beak.
It migrates to warmer regions such as North Africa, the Middle East, India, and Southern China during winter. They feed on plants, roots, insects, small mammals, and amphibians.
The dance of the Common Crane is one of its fascinating features3, serving as a complex communication tool. It involves bows, jumps, runs, sticks tosses, and wing flaps. This spectacle strengthens pair bonds and keeps aggression at bay.
5. Siberian Crane (Leucogeranus leucogeranus)
The Siberian Crane is a bird species known for its striking white plumage and red patch on its forehead. The bird's pointed beak is well-suited for its marshy habitat.
It typically lives in northern Russia and migrates to Iran, India, and China during the winter. During migration, the Siberian Crane flies at high altitudes1 of up to 26,000 feet to avoid eagle attacks.
Despite its adaptability, the Siberian Crane is one of the world's most endangered crane species2, with a population estimated to be between 3,200 and 4,000 individuals. Overhunting and agricultural expansion have contributed to its critically endangered status.
6. White-naped Crane (Antigone vipio)
The White-naped Crane is a tall bird with a white nape and neck contrasting its grey body. These features are essential for survival in their marshy homes, where they can blend with reeds and grasses during mealtime. It can reach a height of up to 4.3 feet and weigh anywhere between 12.3 and 17 pounds.
Their habitat spans from Northeastern Mongolia and northeastern China to select parts of southeastern Russia. They live in wetlands, marshes, and grasslands and consume insects, aquatic creatures, roots, seeds, and tubers. Their diet shifts to small mammals, fish, and frogs when they breed.
During winter, they migrate to the warm waters of the Yangtze River basin, Jiangsu’s coastal areas in China, and certain regions of the Korean Peninsula.
The White-naped Crane is monogamous. Likewise, their courtship dance is a sight to behold, a choreographed sequence of jumps and bows.
7. Sarus Crane (Antigone antigone)
The Sarus Crane is the tallest flying bird in the world, with a height of up to 5.9 feet. Its grey body, red head and neck, and white crown make it easily distinguishable from other crane species.
The adaptable Sarus Crane thrives in various environments, including wetlands, marshes, flooded plains, cultivated fields, and grasslands. Its diverse diet includes aquatic plants, seeds, insects, frogs, and small vertebrates.
The Sarus Crane's courtship dance is a complex ritual that serves as a bonding exercise between pairs. Their dance includes bowing, jumping, running, stick tossing, and wing flaps.
8. Brolga (Antigone rubicunda)
The Brolga, also known as the Australian Crane, engages in an elegant dance with jumps, bows, and wing-flapping. This dance is a social ritual that strengthens the bonds among these sociable birds.
Standing 4 to 5 feet tall, the Brolga is one of the tallest flying birds, with grey plumage and a distinctive red head.
The Brolga eats plant matter, seeds, tubers, insects, mollusks, and small mammals. They adapt to various landscapes, such as irrigated pastures and croplands, and undertake long journeys to find suitable feeding and nesting conditions.
Both parents work together to construct a large mound nest in shallow water during the breeding season, which generally aligns with the wet season. They also share the incubation duties for one or two eggs.
9. Black Crowned Crane (Balearica pavonina)
The Black Crowned Crane is a crane species in the African savannah, with black primary flight feathers and purplish-brown secondary flight ones. This bird has a unique long hind toe, which enables it to roost high in trees.
It eats insects, reptiles, small mammals, and plants and performs an elaborate dance as part of its mating ritual. Both males and females share parenting responsibilities, incubating 2 to 3 eggs for about a month.
The Black Crowned Crane has a black-colored body and neck contrasted with white cheeks. It has a crown of rigid golden feathers, and a red pouch decorates its throat. Moreover, this bird makes a loud, trumpeting call, a signature sound of African wildlife.
Despite facing habitat loss and illegal trade, the species continues to thrive. However, the IUCN has classified it as vulnerable.
10. Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradiseus)
The Blue Crane, South Africa's national bird, is an adaptable and beautiful creature. Its distinct plumage, elongated wing feathers, and unique vocalizations make it stand out in the bird kingdom.
This relatively small bird, weighing between 8.8 and 11 pounds and standing roughly four feet tall, has survived environmental changes. It lives in cultivated lands where it feeds on seeds, insects, and small mammals.
The Blue Crane also mates for life and communicates using a variety of sounds, including a loud, high-pitched trill. Its courtship is a beautiful bowing, jumping, and running dance, all set to a soundtrack of unique vocalizations. The Blue Crane communicates with its fellow cranes and warns potential predators through their vocalizations.
11. Demoiselle Crane (Anthropoides virgo)
The Demoiselle Crane is a small crane that measures between 2.8 and 3.3 feet. Its nickname 'Demoiselle’ means 'young lady' or 'maiden' in French.
The bird has a pale blue-grey body with long, white feather tufts flowing from the eye to the back of the neck and distinctive fiery red eyes.
Likewise, the Demoiselle Crane primarily lives in diverse territories from the Black Sea to Mongolia, China, and Turkey.
During winters, the bird migrates to warmer regions in Africa and the Indian subcontinent, covering vast distances and navigating challenging terrains such as the Himalayas. The bird prefers grasslands, wetlands, and agricultural fields, feeding on plants, insects, and other small creatures.
12. Wattled Crane (Bugeranus carunculatus)
The Wattled Crane is the largest crane in Africa and the second tallest in the world. The bird has long, white wattles hanging from its upper throat, which contrast against its mainly grey body. Its back is covered in pebble-like feathers, setting it apart from other cranes.
The Wattled Crane inhabits wetland areas like seasonal marshes, broad, shallow river valleys, and floodplains.
Moreover, it eats various foods such as aquatic plants, seeds, grains, insects, frogs, fish, and tiny reptiles. It uses its long bill to probe in mud when searching for tubers.
The bird's breeding season occurs during the dry period, and it builds large nests in its wetland habitat. The cranes form lifelong bonds with their partners, adding a touch of romance to their story.
13. Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum)
The Grey Crowned Crane is native to the African plains south of the Sahara. It stands about 3.3 feet with a wingspan of up to 6.6 feet and has a golden feather crown that expands when the bird gets excited.
This species performs an energetic mating dance and can perch on trees with its long hind toe.
Their diverse diet allows them to adapt to different habitats, such as wetlands, marshes, and grasslands. Sadly, the Grey Crowned Crane is endangered due to habitat loss.
14. Hooded Crane (Grus monacha)
The Hooded Crane lives in the wetlands of East Asia. It has a patch of bare red skin above its eyes, contrasting with its dark grey body. Despite being only 3.3 feet tall, this bird has a distinctive appearance.
It is native to Siberia and Mongolia. Large groups of these cranes fly over Japan, China, and South Korea during winter. Moreover, these migratory birds prefer to stay within their habitat, traveling only when food availability or the breeding season necessitates it.
They prefer marshes and bogs but will occasionally inhabit grasslands and agricultural fields. They eat insects, roots, tubers, seeds, small amphibians, and rodents.
15. Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis)
The Black-necked Crane is a medium-sized bird inhabiting the high-altitude wetlands of the Tibetan Plateau, India, or Bhutan. The bird has a striking black head and neck, contrasting its grey and white feathers. It is also one of the highest-altitude-dwelling bird species.
These birds eat roots, tubers, aquatic plants, insects, and sometimes small vertebrates or grains.
During the mating season, Black-necked Cranes perform a courtship dance that involves bowing, jumping, running, and vegetation tossing, accompanied by their unique calls. This dance helps them attract a mate, bond, and strengthen ties between partners.
Kanai, Y., Ueta, M., Гермогенов, Н. И., Nagendran, M., Mita, N., & Higuchi, H. (2002). Migration routes and important resting areas of Siberian cranes ( Grus leucogeranus ) between northeastern Siberia and China as revealed by satellite tracking. Biological Conservation, 106(3), 339–346.
Archibald, G. W., Meine, C. D., Garcia, E. F., & Kirwan, G. M. (2020). Cranes (Gruidae). In J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, & E. de Juana (Eds.), Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions.