The common crane is one of six genera of the crane family (Gruida) and contains five separate species (Grus) which are all monotypic. It is a long distance migrant and one of Europe’s largest birds with a range extending from Northern Europe into Central and East Asia.
Common Crane, Eurasian Crane
The common crane is a tall erect bird with longs legs and a long neck which thickens significantly where it joins with the shoulders and breast. The adult is predominantly grey all over the body with some birds showing a grey brown hue to their back. The culmen and head is black and the face and throat black or very dark grey to approximately half way down the neck, where it changes to grey. There is a bare patch on the crown which is coloured deep red. The back of the head and area immediately behind the yellow eye is a bright white which extends to the nape and continues down the rear of the neck as a wide stripe, changing to grey where it meets the scapulars. The upper and lower wing areas are grey and the tips of the flight feathers are black and fingered. When standing, dark tipped feathers become apparent which are bunched up and extending over the tail. The bill, which is medium length, is a pale greyish yellow and the legs are thick, long and dark grey. Adult males and females are similar although generally the females are slightly smaller. Juveniles are a light to mid brown with a dull brown feathered head. The adult’s bare red area on the crown does not appear fully until the bird is three years old although it becomes discernible at the age of two.
Crane with spread wings
During the breeding season pairs will dance with each other and issue bugling or trumpeting sounds. Outside of the dancing rituals they may still trumpet but their usual call is deep and loud, often heard in flight as, ‘krra – krra’.
A pair of Cranes
Cranes forage from the ground or in shallow water as they stride around, often in small groups, and their diet consists, in the main, of grains, roots, aquatic plants, berries, leaves, grasses and shoots as well as insects, worms, lizards, small fish and frogs.
Crane in flight
Common cranes are found in the northern regions of the Palearctic from Scandinavia through to Eastern Siberia. Small populations can also be found within the British Isles. During the winter months all common cranes migrate south from their breeding grounds into Southern Europe, Eastern China, Northern India, North Africa and Western Asia.
Breeding grounds are frequently on boggy areas or near marshland in remote forests where the Springtime courtship rituals of dancing, pirouetting, leaping and trumpeting, sometimes in large numbers, is an impressive sight. The patternation of the adult is distinctive and huge flocks can often be seen in flight during migration. In flight, when viewed from below, the long black under neck contrasting with the pale grey body, tail and fore wing area, with black fingered wing tips and a dark wing trailing edge, is an excellent guide to identification. Unlike many species in flight the common crane is not confined to a specific flight configuration and may be spotted in a V formation, a single line of many birds or a simple haphazard group. With their long legs trailing behind them and their trumpeting calls they are an inspiring sight.
Adult Crane with young
Cranes doing the mating dance
Although common cranes are monogamous, they will start each breeding season in ritual mutual displays of dancing and courtship. A large mound of reeds and marshy vegetation is built on the ground either in, or close to shallow water where usually during the month of May, one clutch consisting of 2 eggs is laid. The buff coloured eggs are speckled with mid and dark brown splodges and incubated for a period of around thirty one days. Fledging occurs between sixty five to seventy days later and full sexual maturity may take up to six years to achieve.
Crane sitting on nest
Pair of Cranes with their chicks
The expected lifespan of a common crane is up to twenty years.