The Elegant Crane
Almost every culture has at least one story about the majestic crane and they have long been depicted in art in different countries. These large birds have long legs and necks and so they stand out from other birds very easily. There are also representatives of this group of birds on every continent with the exception of two: Antarctica and South America. Cranes belong to the Gruiformes bird order and are grouped into the family ‘Gruidae’.
At first sight, many people tend to confuse cranes with herons as both birds are large and have long necks and legs. However the two birds are very different and are not even related. One of the most notable differences is that cranes always fly with their necks stretched out ahead of them, while herons pull their heads back against their bodies. Cranes are generally gregarious and so you will often find them coming together to form large flocks. Most crane species learn to perform an elaborate and noisy courtship display – a skill which they are able to refine throughout their lifetime, as it would seem that they do change mates more than once. Cranes are generally opportunistic feeders and so their diets will change according to their nutritional requirements, the season and what is available. Observers may not bat an eye at a crane swallowing insects, fish, amphibians, grain, berries or plants. However, they may be surprised to see a crane devouring a small rodent from time to time!
There are approximately fifteen living species of crane that have been divided up into four genera. Almost all these species are threatened and many are actually listed as being ‘critically endangered’. The plumage of the different species is quite varied and makes for some interesting bird watching. The Indian Sarus Crane, for example, is simply white-grey in color with a striking red hood over its head and a portion of its neck. Red-crowned cranes are white with black tail and neck plumage and a small red ‘crown’ above the bill. The Grey Crowned Crane is perhaps one of the most striking species, with grey, white and brown plumage and a beautiful golden ‘crown’ that stands up above the birds head providing the perfect contrast to the bright red throat pouch. Some species do not migrate, while others migrate over long distances each year. These birds are truly worth observing in the wild, so get your binoculars out and go in search of the crane species located nearest to you.