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< > Grus grus - Common crane (Click photographs/illustrations: full picture & further details)

Grus grus common crane egges. Click here for full-page view with caption. Chick in brooder box. Click here for full-page view with caption. crane chick in brooder with puppet head encouraging feeding. Click here for full-page view with caption. Common crane chick. Click here for full-page view with caption. Common crane chick with costumed "parent". Click here for full-page view with caption. Juvenile coom cranes foraging with costumed "parent." Click here for full-page view with caption. Common crane Grus grus wading. Click here for full-page view with caption. Common crane grus grus. Click here for full-page view with caption. Common crane grus grus. Click here for full-page view with caption. Common cranes with mammaianl prey. Click here for full-page view with caption. Grus grus - common crane. Click here for full-page view with caption. Grus grus - Common (Eurasian) cranes unison calling. Click here for full page view with caption. Grus grus - common crane. Click here for full-page view with caption. Grus grus - common crane. Click here for full-page view with caption. Grus grus. Click here for full-page view with caption. Common (Eurasian) crane distribution map. Click here for full-page view with caption.










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General and References

Alternative Names (Synonyms)

  • Eurasian crane
  • European crane
  • de Kraanvogel (Dutch) (B104, B474)
  • la Grue cendrée (French) (B104, B107.w8, B474)
  • der graue Kranich (German) (B474)
  • Kranich. (German) (B104, B107.w8)
  • Gruella común (Spanish) (B104, B107.w8)
  • Trana (Swedish) (B104)
  • Kurotsuru (Japanese) (B474)
  • La Grue (B474)
  • Ardea grus (B474)
  • Grus communis (B474)
  • Grus cinerea (B474)
  • Grus vulgaris (B474)
  • Grus canorus (B474)
  • Megalornis grus (B474, B479.w16)
  • Grus longirostris (B474)
  • Grus nostras (B474)
  • Grus lilfordi (B474)
  • Grus grus lilfordi (B107.w8)
  • Grus grus grus (B107.w8)

Names for newly-hatched


Names for non-breeding males or other colour-phases


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Species Author

Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)

Major References

B97, B104, B107.w8, B474, B480.1.w1, B481.II.14.w22, P91.1.w6, W2.Nov2013.w9

Aviculture references:
B31, B97, B115.2.w7, B479.w16, D437, J23.17.w5, P1.1986.w4, P96.1.w1


(Further Reading)
Click image for full contents list of ELECTRONIC LIBRARY

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TAXA Group (where information has been collated for an entire group on a modular basis)

Parent Group

Specific Needs Group referenced in Management Techniques


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Aviculture Information


General Information:
  • Cranes are tall birds with a long beak and sharp claws, and can be aggressive. Their ability to injure humans must be considered in enclosure design and handling. (B115.2.w7, B197.9.w9)
  • Most cranes are wetland species, a few being primarily grassland species. They should be given the opportunity to wade and bathe, and to forage and/or dig for food in natural vegetation and soft soil substrates.
  • Good nutrition, with adequate protein and micronutrient levels, is essential for the general health of the cranes and for breeding.
  • Cranes form monogamous pairs and can be extremely territorial, particularly in the breeding season. Therefore it is important to house each pair of adult cranes in a separate enclosure from other cranes, and preferably not directly adjacent to another pair of cranes, particularly of the same species. Visual barriers should be put in place between crane enclosures before the breeding season
  • Care is required when introducing intended mates to each other, to avoid injury to one or both birds; formation of a good pair bond can take time.
  • Cranes are unlikely to breed if they feel insecure, such as in mixed species enclosures with hoofstock, or if there is no part of their enclosure which is free from daily human disturbance.
  • If possible, rotational pens should be provided, such that a pen can be left empty in alternate years, to reduce soil burdens of parasites and pathogenic microorganisms which may otherwise build up to problematic levels; this is particularly important if chicks are to be parent-reared, to avoid overwhelming exposure to e.g. gapeworm very early.

(B115.2.w7, D437, J23.17.w5, P1.1986.w4, P96.1.w1)

Species-specific information:

  • Quite hardy, but should have a sheltered area available in winter. (B479.w16, B97)
    • Should have a shelter available in frosty conditions. (B31)
    • Consider confining the birds at night in severe conditions, with a thick layer of straw on the ground to protect the feet from frostbite. (B97)
  • Can be kept in a spacious with waterfowl, or e.g. a large fenced orchard. (B31)
  • These birds will dig holes up to 10 cm (four inches) deep searching for invertebrates, and will uproot plants. (B31)
  • Make good use of cover (natural vegetation) if available. (B479.w16)
  • Very aquatic; will swim in deep water if available. (B479.w16)
  • Can be fed a diet of grain (maize, wheat), complete pelleted food and treats of protein-rich foods such as insects, worms, mice, shrimps, also green food. (B31)
  • For breeding, a pair should be provided with a large paddock, fenced (at least 7 ft high) and with a shallow pond surrounded by reeds and bushes. These birds must not be disturbed during the breeding season. (B97)
    • Avoidance of disturbance, including disturbance from other birds, is important for breeding. (B31)
  • A pair bred in "a large pen, approximately 10,000 square feet in area, with a shallow pool and some trees for shade". (N1.94.w2)
  • Mature breeding males are aggressive. (B479.w16)
    • Can inflict severe injuries by stabbing with the bill. (B97)
  • If hand-rearing, chicks must initially be offered food, held out to them as the parents would offer it; this is time consuming and must be repeated patiently. (B31)
Management Techniques


Bird Husbandry and Management

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External Appearance (Morphology)

Measurement & Weight

  • About 115 cm. (B107.w8)
  • Males are generally larger than females. (B107.w8)
  • 110-120 cm; body 50-55 cm. (B104)
  • Wingspan 180-200 cm. (B107.w8) 220-245 cm. (B104)
  • Male and female similar in size. (B104)
Adult weight General Range of 3,950-7000g in USSR. (B104) In winter, six adults of Grus grus lilfordi weighed 4,500 - 5,895 g. (B481.II.14.w22)
  • 5,100 - 6,100 g. (B107.w8); three males 5.095 - 6,100g. (B481.II.14.w22)
  • Males weighed at 6,100 g (March), 6,055 g (May), 5,095 g (September). (B104)
  • 4,500-5,900 g. (B107.w8); four females 4,500 - 5,895 g. (B481.II.14.w22)
  • Females weighed at 4,500 g (September), 5,895 g (December), 5,000 g and 5,350 g. (B104)
Newly-hatched weight Three chicks less than a day old weighed on average 105.3 g. (B480.1.w1)
Growth rate Cranes general: Crane chicks grow rapidly. Growth of the legs is particularly rapid in the first six weeks, with the wings then developing rapidly after this. (B107.w8)

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Adult Bill Male
  • Red-brown with a grey tip. (B104)
    • Pale green-horn, tinged red at the base and yellow in the middle. (B104)
    • Greyish-green with a browner base and paler tip. (B97)
  • Cranes general: a straight bill, longer than the head, laterally compressed and sharply pointed, with nostrils, which are pervious, placed in a long, deep nasal groove. (B104)
Variations (If present)
  • Both male and female are brightest in spring. (B104)
  • Female: Generally duller bill colour than in the male. (B104)
Eyes (Iris) Male
  • Yellow to orange. (B107.w8)
  • Bright red, chestnut, hazel or pale yellow; this does not appear to be related to sex or season. (B104)
  • Yellow or brown. (B479.w16)
  • Red-brown. (B97)
Variations (If present) In a study of 60 common cranes captured in Iran, mostly adults (44 adults, nine immatures, six two-year-olds and one three-year-old), in 29 of the cranes the iris was considered reddish, in 17 it was yellow, in four it was pale reddish, in four it was pale brown, in three grey and one each were pale yellow, orange and red. (J720.93-94.w1)
Juvenile Bill Pale pink, bill tinged yellow, gradually darkens to pale olive-grey with a darker tip. (B104)
Eyes (Iris) Brown. (B104)

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Adult Male
  • Dark grey. (B107.w8)
  • Black or dark slate; sometimes with an olive tinge. The sole of the foot is a paler olive-brown or flesh colour. (B104)
  • Long legs, the lower 85-125 mm of the tibia is bare. The hind toe is slightly elevated, the strong claws are short and slightly curved. (B104)
  • Black. (B97)
  • Cranes general: The legs are long and the toes short, with the hind toe elevated and small, while the claw of the inner toe of each foot is elongated for fighting. (B104)
Variations (If present) --
  • Legs grey. (B104)
  • Initially pale pink, soon darkens to blue-grey then olive-black, with the foot dark brown to slate black. (B104)

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Adult Male
Slate grey. Head dark grey; on the crown a patch of red, with black feathers behind this to the top of the neck, starting behind the eye on the sides of the head and extending down the nape a stripe of white. Primaries black. (B107.w8)

Head has crown and lores nearly bare, black, with above the eye a broad band of red. This colour fades to a nape narrow, dark grey. Behind the eye is a white band, the bands from either side running along the face and down the neck to join at the back of the lower neck. The chin, throat and foreneck and dark grey to two thirds of the way down the neck. The body is dull blue-grey; on the chest and parts of the back and scapulars there is a vinaceous tinge. Primaries black, secondaries grey and black; inner secondaries (tertials) are elongated, forming a bushy cloak over the tail when the crane is standing. Tail grey-black. (B104)

Bare skin on head (lores, forecrown, front part of crown) blue-tinged black; hindcrown varying sike patch of warty red. (B104)

Variations (If present)
  • The plumages of male and female are similar, and there is no seasonal variation in plumage. (B104)
  • Adults undergo a complete post-breeding moult, with all flight feathers lost over a period of about two days, but this happens only every 2-3, possibly four, years. The new feathers are fully grown after five weeks. In Germany the flightless period occurs mainly in late May or early June, when chicks are small. 
  • Cranes general:
    • The moult of the flight feathers is simultaneous in most species (not Anthropoides virgo or Balearica spp.), leading to a period of flightlessness. (B104)
    • The breeding and non-breeding plumages are similar to one another. (B104)
  • Similar to adult, but crown feathered not bare, and body plumage tipped with yellowish-brown. (B107.w8)
  • The upperparts and neck are browner than in the adult, the head is red-brown and the adult markings are lacking, and the bustle or cloak of feathers over the tail is poorly developed. (B104)
  • The skin of the crown is black; from spring there may be some pale red on the hindcrown. (B104)
  • Cranes general: Juvenile cranes have extensive brown tinges and do not have any bare areas on the head. (B104)

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Identification Notes

Cranes general: 
  • "Cranes are large to very large birds with long necks and legs, streamlined bodies and long, rounded wings." (B107.w8)
  • Compared to the day-herons, cranes have longer legs and hold their necks straighter. (B107.w8)
  • Compared to egrets, the body is proportionately larger. (B107.w8)
  • Compared to storks, the legs are longer, bodies lighter and bills smaller. (B107.w8)
  • In flight, cranes have their necks straight forwards and their long legs trailing behind, forming a straight line from the bill; in very cold weather the legs may be pulled in against the body. (B107.w8)
  • Cranes are large to huge terrestial birds with rather elongated, streamlined bodies with long, rather broad wings. They fly strongly, with the head and neck stretched straight out and the legs trailing behind. The heads have bare patches on the crown or face in Grus and Bugeranus [note: this reference considers Anthropoides as a separate genus]. (B104)

Common crane:

  • The inner secondaries are elongated and form a distinct "bustle" when the wings are folded. (B107.w8)
  • About 20% larger than either Ardea cinerea - Grey heron or Grus virgo - Demoiselle crane. Large, with a pointed bill and long legs and neck "contributing to an elegant character, further enhanced by cloak of loose feathers falling over tail." The plumage is mainly grey, with darker head and neck marked with a white band from the eye, while the flight feathers are nearly black and contrast strongly with the other wing feathers. In flight, they have a regular, powerful wingbeat, rapid upstroke, and can glide and soar for long periods on rigid, flat wings. (B104)
  • On land, a stalking walk; they also hop and pounce on prey. (B104)
  • Can swim. (B104)


  • Penetrating, high pitched calls. (B107.w8)
  • Loud, echoing "krooh". (B104)

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Newly-hatched Characteristics

  • Dorsal dark brown, ventral pale brown. (B107.w8), standing erect, running and swimming well by two days old. (B480.1.w1) The second down coat is more brownish-grey. (B481.II.14.w22)
  • Chicks are precocial and nidifugous; they run and swim well from their second day. They squat motionless to avoid predators. (B104)
  • Active within hours of birth, running and swimming at one day old. (B480.1.w1) Able to swim soon after hatching, actively running by 24 hours and by 48 hours able to stand erect as well as swim and run well. (B481.II.14.w22)
  • Cranes general:
    • Crane chicks are precocial and nidifugous. They have two subsequent buff or brown down plumages. (B104)
    • The initial down is replaced by a second coat of down; this is replaced by feathers. (B107.w8)
    • Crane chicks walk and swim within hours of hatching; they become self-feeding more gradually. (B104)

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Detailed Anatomy

  • The trachea is coiled and fills the sternum. (B107.w8, B481.II.14.w22)

Cranes general

  • Cranes have ten functional primary flight feathers (with a vestigial 11th in most species), and 18-25 secondary flight feathers. (B107.w8)
  • Cranes have 10 primaries, plus a vestigial 11th primary in Grus  spp. (but not in Balearica spp.), 19-25 secondaries, dense, elongated and often curved tertials and tertial-coverts. (B104)
  • The tails of cranes, made up of 12 feathers, are rather broad, short and straight-tipped. (B104)
  • The feathers have an aftershaft. (B104)
  • Cranes (males and females) have a small median brood patch and two large lateral brood patches. B104
  • The oil gland is feathered. (B104)
  • The caeca are rather long. (B104)
  • The trachea is convoluted to varying degrees in all cranes except Balearica spp. (B104)
  • The tongue is long. (B104)

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Reproductive Season

Time of year
  • Spring, with egg laying mainly in March. (B107.w8)
  • Eggs laid late-April to late June, but mainly mid-May to mid-June in Fenno-Scandia, but starting up to three weeks earlier in the south of the range. (B104)
No. of Clutches
  • Repeated clutches have been reported. (B107.w8)
  • Single clutch, but replacement eggs are laid after egg loss, and there is a record of a second clutch of two eggs being laid 17 days after a clutch was lost. (B104)

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Nest placement and structure

  • In or near water, in an inaccessible, undisturbed site such as bog, marsh, mire, heath or sedge meadow. (B480.1.w1, B481.II.14.w22, W2.Nov2013.w9)
  • In a shallow marsh or bog, often near to trees. The nest is a mound of wetland vegetation, about 80 cm wide. (B107.w8)
    • This may be re-used in future years.(B481.II.14.w22, W2.Nov2013.w9)
  • Solitary nest within a large territory - 50-400 hectares on open bog with sparse scrub. Nests are rarely closer to one another than 2-3 km. 3-5 pairs on an area of 40 hectares has been recorded. (B104)
  • The nest is a large pile of available vegetation with a shallow cup, and is re-used in successive years. On average it is 80 cm wide (range 70-100 cm) and 20-30 cm high (but up to 50-60 cm high). (B104)
  • Often the nest is in shallow water. (B481.II.14.w22)
  • Cranes general:
    • Crane pairs build a solitary nest in a territory which may be variable in size but is usually large (can be several square kilometres). (B104)
    • Both the male and the female of a crane pair may defend their territory. (B104)
    • The nest is usually a substantial pile of vegetation. often in water. (B104)

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Egg clutches

No. of Eggs Average
  • Usually two. (B480.1.w1B107.w8)
  • Cranes general: 
    • Clutch size is usually two (except in Balearica), with a range of 1-3. Cranes will lay replacements after eggs have been lost. (B104)
    • Eggs are laid generally at intervals of two days (range one to four days). (B104)
  • Usually 2, rarely 1 or 3. (B480.1.w1, B104)
  • Usually two; occasionally one and rarely clutches of three or four eggs reported. (B481.II.14.w22)
  • One clutch; if the clutch is lost early in incubation then a replacement clutch may be laid. (B481.II.14.w22)
Egg Description
  • Greyish-white with dense spotting, 93 x 62 mm, 185 g. (P91.1.w6)
  • For 300 eggs, mean 95.34 x 60.05 mm. Ovate, long ovate, pointed ovate or subelliptical. (B480.1.w1)
  • Dark olive-brown , sometimes with a greenish cast, but some paler white or greyish cast to the ground colour. All heavily spotted, with variable coloures and sizes of dots and splotches, always radiating from the large end towards the small end. (B480.1.w1)
  • Weight quite variable; for example for 22 eggs mainly near to hatching, 157.3 - 206.6 g
  • Cranes general: Crane eggs are ovate, smooth, slightly glossy, usually rather dull with heavy blotching. (B104)

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  • 28-31 days. (B107.w8)
  • 28-31 days, average 30 days. (B104)
  • Incubation begins after the first egg has been laid. (B104, B107.w8, B480.1.w1)
  • Cranes general: incubation starts after the first egg is laid. (B104)

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  • Asynchronous, usually 48 hours apart, sometimes less. (B104, B481.II.14.w22)
  • Asynchonous, rarely on the same day, more commonly one day apart or two days apart. (B480.1.w1)
  • Asynchronous, but can hatch on the same day; incubation starts once the first egg has been laid. (B481.II.14.w22)
  • Cranes general: Asynchronous. (B104, B107.w8)

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  • About 65-70 days. (B107.w8)
  • 65-70 days. (B104)
  • Short flights as early as nine weeks and flying properly by 10 weeks. (B481.II.14.w22)

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Sexual Maturity

  • Not clearly established: two years suggested by one authority while others suggest 4-5 years and 4-6 years. (B104)
  • Four to six years. (B107.w8)
  • Breeding in the second year has been recorded. (B479.w16)
  • Not clearly established: two years suggested by one authority while others suggest 4-5 years and 4-6 years. (B104)
  • Four to six years. (B107.w8)
  • Breeding in the second year has been recorded. (B479.w16)

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Feeding Behaviour

  • Forage on land, picking and probing. (B107.w8)
  • Graze in a manner similar to geese. (B107.w8)
  • Stand or walk slowly taking food from the ground, from shallow water, or from low vegetation. Also use bill to probe and break up soil surface to reach both plants material and animal matter. (B104)
  • Breeding cranes frequently feed outside their own territory. (B104)
  • Dig in the soil for food items, and uproot tufts of grass to access invertebrates. (B480.1.w1)
  • Drink "frequently and copiously." (B480.1.w1)
  • Forage on dry land and while standing in water, from the ground surface and by probing. (B481.II.14.w22)
  • Cranes general: cranes drink regularly. (B104)
  • Initially take food from a parent's bill, gradually become self-feeding. (B104)
  • By three days old picking up food items themselves, and drinking. (B481.II.14.w22)

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Parental Behaviour

  • Both male and female build the nest. (B104, B481.II.14.w22)
  • Cranes general: Both male and female build the nest. (B104, B107.w8)
  • Cranes general: A secluded spot in the pair's territory is chosen, and the cranes unison-call there, then walk away from the selected place and toss nesting materials over their shoulders towards it. Returning to the nest site, they pull into the nest material which is within reach, then slowly walk away and toss more material towards the nest, repeating this sequence until sufficient nesting material has been gathered. (B107.w8)
  • Both male and female incubate (B480.1.w1), for periods of 2-4 hours at a time, but females perform more than half of the incubation. (B104)
    • Sometimes incubate for longer at a time: in one pair watched for 18 hours, three changes of incubator occurred, at intervals as short as 90 minutes and as long as five hours and longer. (B480.1.w1)
  • When relieving one another at the nest, the pair may remain silent, with the incubating bird rising and moving away as its mate approaches, but occasionally they Unison-call or make special Nest-relief calls, and may add or toss nest material. (B104)
  • Cranes general: 
    • Both male and female incubate, changing over several times during the day, but with the female usually incubating during the night. (B107.w8)
    • About every 30-80 minutes, the bird which is incubating will rise and roll the eggs or adjust the nest. (B107.w8)
    • Both male and female incubate, but generally the female does more of the incubation. (B104)
  • The parents become extremely secretive. The male cares for the first chick while the female incubates the second egg. The parents may then take charge of one chick each but stay within 100 m of one another. (B104)
  • Sometimes the parents take care of both chicks together. (B480.1.w1)
  • Parents keep in constant vocal contact with their chicks, and indicate food to the chicks or offer food from their bill - initially they feed the chick bill-to-bill, later chicks become self-feeding. (B104)
  • Cranes general:
    • Adult cranes feed their chicks from soon after hatching. Both male and female bring small items to the chicks, presenting them by holding the food item at the tip of the bill or dropping the food in front of the chicks. (B107.w8)
    • Both males and females feed the chicks, giving them pieces of food. (B104)
  • Both adults care for the young; often a pair will take one chick each. The juveniles often stay with their parents through the first winter to the following spring. (B104)

  • Cranes general: Adult cranes continue to care for their chicks throughout the pre-fledging period and may bring food to the chick for several months (although chicks also follow their parents to food sources from an early age). Juveniles remain with their parents through the non-breeding periods but leave at the start of the next breeding season or are driven away after the return to the breeding territory. (B107.w8)

  • Young of migratory species set off on migration with their parents and may remain with them through the winter. (B104)

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Social Behaviour

  • Gregarious outside the breeding season, with migrating flocks containing 10-50 cranes or as many as 400, and groups of up to 1,000 congregating, even up to 4,000 during the moult. Non breeding adults and immatures remain in groups of 6-10 birds during the summer. (W2.Nov2013.w9)
  • Gregarious while on migration and during the winter; solitary while breeding. (B104)
  • Gregarious for much of the year (outside the breeding season), including migrating in flocks of up to 300; they may be found in flocks of 4,000 while moulting and at abundant food sources, especially during autumn passage. flocks appear to stay in sight of one another during migration. (B104)
  • During the breeding season, immature and unpaired individuals may be found in flocks of 6-10 birds. (B104)
  • Once the young have fledged, families move and join other families in post-breeding flocks. (B104)
  • Breeding pairs are territorial in the breeding season, holding large nesting territories. (W2.Nov2013.w9)
  • Outside the breeding season fairly gregarious. Feed in pairs or family groups. (B481.II.14.w22)
  • Territorial while breeding, using the same nesting area repeatedly, sometimes the same site. (B481.II.14.w22)
  • Cranes general: 
    • Cranes are gregarious outside the breeding season, but separate for the breeding season. (B107.w8)
      • Migratory crane species may form very large flocks outside the breeding season. (B104)
      • Cranes roost communally outside the breeding season
    • Juveniles which are not yet paired gather in non-breeding flocks and may be nomadic through the breeding period. (B107.w8)
    • By the end of their second year the young birds may have started to initiate pair bonds. (B107.w8)
    • Soon after the chicks fledge, families of migratory cranes gather in flocks at pre-migratory staging areas with dependable food and safe roosting sites. As the weather deteriorates, they move further south to join larger congregations of cranes, before setting out on the main migration. (B107.w8)
    • Crane chicks often are very aggressive to one another; parents may take one chick each. (B104)

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Sexual Behaviour

  • Monogamous, with a pair-bond which apparently lasts life-long. (B104)
  • Courtship behaviour and copulation may take place up to 1,500 m from the nest site. (B104)
  • Unison-calling occurs throughout the year, with the pair standing several feet apart, heads thrown back, bills vertical, breast plumage ruffled, wing-plumes erect and in the male, primaries fanned. (B104)
  • When the female is ready to mate, she turns her back to the male, stretches up and opens her wings with her primaries; sometimes she calls. The male approaches with a vigorous gait, with calls rising in tone, and springs onto the back of the female while she leans forwards to a horizontal body position, both birds having their wings spread an the male balancing on his tarsi. Copulation lasts up to 4-5 seconds, the male giving a grown finishing with a loud Copulation call, after which the male leaps off over the female's head and runs several steps beating his wings. Both cranes shake their feathers and preen briefly, Unison-call, and may throw nest material about or crouch down as if incubating. (B104)
    • It is common also for the female to leap onto the male. (B104)
  • In a small group of wild cranes including eight pairs, it was noted that the male of a pair would sometimes act aggressively and the female would run a short distance away temporarily. (B480.1.w1)
  • Initial courtship includes the male "stalking" the female, marching behind her continously with the legs being lifted high, the thighs pressed outwards and the ornamental feathers erect; this may continue for hours to days, and several males may display to one female, ostentatiously ignoring the others (turning the head away) and if on stops, all do and engage in "mock preening". (B480.1.w1)
  • Cranes general:
    • Monogamous. Crane pairs stay together all year, and usually remain together until one partner dies. (B107.w8)
    • Monogamous, probably life-long. (B104)
    • In Grus canadensis - Sandhill crane it has been shown that pairs which are unsuccessful in breeding often dissolve and choose new mates. (B107.w8)
  • Cranes general: (B107.w8)
    • Cranes copulate repeatedly, starting several weeks before egg laying.
    • Mating usually occurs before sunrise, but can also occur at other times during daylight hours. 
    • In newly-established pairs, copulation is preceded by long bouts of dancing. Well-established pairs mate without any tension. 
    • The copulatory sequence is initiated by the male or the female. The initiating bird elevates its bill, arches slightly forwards and gives a low, purring call. The mate then shows similar behaviour. 
    • The male bird (usually) circles its mate with exaggerated steps.
    • The female spreads her wings. The male approaches, jumps onto her back with his wings flapping, and crouches.
    • The female elevates her tail, the male lowers his tail, and the cloacae of the two birds meet.
    • The male jumps forward off the female over her head and for a few seconds performs threat displays.
    • Both birds perform a long preening sequence.


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Predation in Wild

  • Eggs predated by Corvus corone - Carrion crow. (B481.II.14.w22)
  • Haliaeetus albicilla - White-tailed eagle:
    • These have been sen attaching both flying and standing cranes. (B481.II.14.w22)
    • When attacked, cranes bunch together and face the eagle's stoop; the likely victim dips its body towards the eagle, feathers puffed, head back and high, calling loudly. If attacks are repeated, the crane may leap into the air and strike with its bill, or throw itself backwards and use its legs to fend off the eagle. (B104)
  • Common cranes attack ground predators by stabbing with the bill, kicking and beating with their wings. (B104)
  • If a predator approaches the nest, the crane which is incubating may not leave the nest until the predator is within 10-20 metres. They use a distraction-display with a hunched, limping walk and one wing drooping; females sometimes use "a slow, mammal-like bounding run with long strides and hunched back, head and neck below shoulders, bill open." (B104)
  • Other distractions are more similar to threat behaviours - trampling, lying with spread wings, mock-feeding (head held near the round, moving rapidly from side to side). (B104)

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Activity Patterns

  • In flight, they have a regular, powerful wingbeat, rapid upstroke, and can glide and soar for long periods on rigid, flat wings. (B104)
  • On land, a stalking walk; they also hop and pounce on prey. (B104)
  • Can swim. (B104)
  • While breeding, shy and secretive; easier to approach outside the breeding season. (B104)
  • On migration, make mass movements over regular routes and have marked resting periods in traditional locations. (B104)
  • Migrate usually in a V or double V formation, at mean 44 km/hr over land and 67 km/hr over water, at heights of up to 5,000m and up to 6,600 m over the Himalayas. Readily cross large open water areas. In bad weather, they fly at low altitudes. (B104)

  • Outside the breeding season, common cranes roost communally on ground at lake margins, in shallow water, on river bars, in reedbeds, bogs, fens and irrigation areas. Exceptionally, they may roost on trees. On migration, roosting sites include cereal fields, moors, heath, open orchards etc. (B104)
  • "Characteristic Dancing-dispaly movements performed by solitary birds, pairs, and flocks throughout year, but with greatest frequency in spring. Function obscure, but expressive of excitement and highly infectious, spreading from single bird through whole flock and can be induced by man imitating movements." (B104)
  • On migration, flocks are often fairly bunched but with straggling, and are highly vocal. After take-off there is much alteration of flight formation initially, before they settle. (B104)
  • Diurnal; during the day they feed while at night they roost either on the ground or in water; often the same roost is used every night, and sometime every year. (W2.Nov2013.w9)
  • A tame but free-roaming individual was noted to bathe regularly. (B480.1.w1)
  • During daylight hours alternate between feeding, roosting and drinking. May fly 12-14 km or even further from roosting to feeding sites. (B481.II.14.w22)
  • Frequently "paint" the feathers with mud/decaying vegetation, changing their colour from grey to reddish brown, possibly to better blend into their surroundings while nesting. (B481.II.14.w22)
Cranes general:
  • Roosting:
    • Cranes (except the Balearica spp.) generally roost in shallow water, occasionally on mudflats, sandbars or dry ground.
    • In flocks, cranes stand about a "peck distance" apart while roosting.
    • Most of the time they stand on one leg, switching legs several times during the night.
    • The head and neck are tucked onto or under one shoulder.
    • Cranes defecate at regular intervals while roosting.
    • On the roosting site they are still and silent unless disturbed.
    • If there is an unfamiliar sound, or one member of the flock gives an alarm call, all the birds become alert and are ready to fly.


  • Cranes generally roost in an inaccessible site such as the centre of a marsh; this may be some distance (miles) from the feeding area used during the day. (B104
  • Cranes bathe infrequently. Bathing involves dipping the head, neck and shoulders in shallow water, and ruffling the wings. After bathing they preen and oil their feathers. (B104)
  • Cranes often rest on one leg. (B104)
  • Cranes sleep with their bill and head tucked into their feathers at the base of one wing. (B104)
  • Roost at night; calling may be heard on moonlit nights. (B104)
  • Common cranes usually leave the roost about 30 minutes before dawn, feed in early morning and during the afternoon; they may return to the roost at midday. They return to the roost after sunset, when dancing displays are seen and excited calls are heard. (B104)
  •  Forage in the early morning and in the afternooon, sometimes returning to roosting areas at midday to rest and drink. (B481.II.14.w22)
  • Cranes general:
  • Diurnal. Outside the breeding season, cranes roost at night and feed during the day. (B107.w8)
    • At dawn, they wake, stretch, preen and drink.
    • In small groups, they fly to a post-roosting staging area, and preen more; cranes may gather at such a site from several roost sites.
    • Small and then larger groups move from the staging area to a feeding area for the day.
    • Generally, cranes feed for a long time in the early morning, then move to loafing areas.
      • At loafing areas, cranes preen and drink, and also engage in social displays, establishing a pecking order for families, and facilitating pairing of unattached birds.
    • In the middle of very hot days, they may fly, spirally high up on thermals.
    • Later they return to feeding and watering areas and forage.
    • They then move to pre-roosting staging areas before flying to a roost site.
      • On the pre-roost staging areas they may engage in social displays.


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Natural Diet

Adult Diet

Omnivorous. (B107.w8,W2.Nov2013.w9)
  • Plant items including roots, rhizomes, tubers, stems, shoots, leaves, berries, seeds of wetland emergents, graases, forbs and crops, also acorns, nuts, legumes and waste grain. (B107.w8)
  • Animal foods include invertebrates such as worms, snails, insects, other arthropods, but also vertebrates: frogs, snake, lizards, fish, rodents. (B107.w8)
  • Plant foods make up most of the diet outside the breeding season; animal foods are eaten most often during the summer. (B107.w8)
  • Mainly plants, including roots, rhizomes, tubers, stems, leaves, fruits, seeds. During summer, animal prey may sometimes predominate. (B104)
  • Plants: fresh shoots of grass, leaves of both wild herbs and crops (clover, brassicas, chickweed, nettle), pondweed, cereal grains (wheat, abrley, oats, rye, maize, rice), berries, peas, potatoes, olives, acorns, cedarnuts, groundnuts, pods of Cajanus. (B104)
  • Animals: Invertebrates including insects (Coleoptera, Orthoptera, Odonata, Diptera, Dictyoptera, and (larvae) Lepidoptera, also snails, earthworms, occasionally millipedes, spiders, woodlice. Vertebrates including Amphibia (frogs), Reptilia (slow-worms, lizards, snakes), Mammalia (rodents, shrews) and less commonly fish, bird eggs and young birds; exceptionally, adult warblers (Sylviinae). (B104)
  • Animal foods including invertebrates (grasshoppers, crickets, locusts, beetles,  cockchafers, water snails, caterpillars, earthworms), also lizards, frogs, young birds, snakes, slowworms, mice, voles, shrews, birds' eggs, and plants including shoots of grains and grass, wheat, peas, oats, barley, beans, buckwheat, berries, acorns, olives, rice, clover, rape, nettle, mallow, chickweed, sedge, sedge seeds and aquatic plants. (B480.1.w1)
  • Particularly plant material including rots, tubers, rhizomes, stems, leaves of herbs such as clover, brassicas, nettle, chickweed, seeds, fruits, shoots of green grasses, pondweeds, berries, grains, potatoes, olives acorns, peanut pods etc. Animal foods are eaten mainly in summer and include invertebrates (insects, snails, eathworms, also spiders, millipedes, woodlice), and vertebrates ( frogs, slowworms, lizards, snakes, small rodents and shrews, less often fish and eggs/chicks of small birds, rarely adult small birds. (B481.II.14.w22)

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Newly-hatched Diet


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Detailed Physiology Notes

Adults have a total moult every second year between breeding and migration, being flightless for about six weeks. (W2.Nov2013.w9)

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Range and Habitat

Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)


Common (Eurasian) crane distribution map. Click here for full-page view with caption.

  • Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Democratic People's Republic of, Korea, Republic of, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lebanon, Libya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Netherlands, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Palestinian Territory, Occupied, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Syrian Arab Republic, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam, Yemen. (W2.Dec06.w11, W2.Nov2013.w9)

    • Austria - recently extinct. (W2.Nov2013.w9)

  • From Scandinavia and north-eastern Europe to north-central China and the Russian Far East, as well as Turkey and the Caucasus, in Armenia and possibly Azerbaijan. (B107.w8)

  • There is a small breeding population in Turkey. There may be a breeding population in Azerbaijan. (B107.w8)

  • Non-breeding birds spend the summer within the breeding range. (B104)

  • In the Western Palearctic, breeding in Denmark, Germany, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Estonia, possibly Danube delta of Rumania, Turkey, USSR. Formerly in Britain and Ireland, Spain, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, northern Italy, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia (last record 1965), Greece (last record 1965). (B104)


  • Migratory. Winters in France, the Iberian Peninsula, north-west and north-east Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, India and southern and eastern China. (B107.w8)

  • Migratory. Movement of families and non-breeders starts in July, but large scale movements start in September. The main departures from the east-German halting places occur late September to mid-October, with cranes reaching Iberia and the Mediterranean mainly in mid to late October. Some individuals reach Ethiopia as early as early September, but most are found in Africa in October to March. In spring, these cranes move across Iberia and the east Mediterranean mainly in March, passing over the Baltic to Sweden in April, and north and east into the former USSR also during April. (B104)

  • Common cranes have traditional halting places, some holding thousands of cranes, around the Baltic in the autumn and spring. In the autumn, major halting areas include Oland in Sweden, Matsula Bay in Estonia, the Oder Valley near Szczecin in Poland, Rugen and the Muritz See in Germany, while in spring the main areas are Hornborgasjon in Sweden and Rugen in Germany. (B104)

  • Migratory; some populations east and south of the Black Sea are resident or show only local movements. (W2.Nov2013.w9)

  • Two main migratory rotes, with regular staging areas. (W2.Nov2013.w9)

  • Arrive in the wintering grounds in Africa mainly during October (some earlier) and return to the breeding grounds in March. (W2.Nov2013.w9)

  • The main migration routes are:

    • From Scandinavia and northern continental Europe, trough western Europe to wintering areas in France, Portugal, Spain and Morocco. (B107.w8)

    • From northeastern Europe, through central Europe and Italy to wintering areas in Tunisia, Libya and Algeria. (B107.w8)

    • From eastern Europe and western Russia: through the Balkans, across and around the Black Sea to winter in eastern Africa, the Middle East and Asia Minor. (B107.w8)

    • From central Russia, around the Caspian Sea to southeastern Iraq and southwestern Iran. (B107.w8)

    • From western Siberia, through Afghanistan and Pakistan to winter in western and central India. (B107.w8)

    • From northern China and central Siberia, across China to wintering areas along the middle River Yangtze. (B107.w8)

    • From Xinjiang and Quinghai Provinces, on the Tibetan Plateau, to wintering areas in southern China. (B107.w8)

  • There is a single record of a moult migration, with 3,500 flightless individuals on Lake Selety-Tengis in Kazakhstan in May 1962. (B104)
  • Cranes general: 
    • Migratory cranes spend days to weeks at pre-migratory staging areas, integrating into the flock as well as building up fat reserves. (B107.w8)
    • To migrate, they feed for several hours early in the morning, then on a clear day with breezes, fly up, climbing in large circles by flap-flying and lifting on thermals, to as high as 2,00m, then assume a V-formation, wings extended, and glide south; after a certain amount of altitude has been lost, they spiral again to regain height, before gliding. Over water, without thermals, they flap-fly in V-formation. (B107.w8)
    • Young cranes stay close to their parents during migration and learn the route. (B107.w8)
    • Cranes call constantly during migration. (B107.w8)
Occasional and Accidental
  • Vagrant to Djibouti, Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Qatar, Svalbard and Jan Mayen, and the United Arab Emirates. (W2.Nov2013.w9)



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  • Boreal and temperate forests, temperate shrubland and grasslands, pasturelands. (W2.Dec06.w11)
  • Breeding:
    • Shallow wetlands, including forested swamps, sedge meadows and bogs. In Europe, uses small wetlands - natural, restored and artificial. (B107.w8)
    • Shallow wetlands varying from reedy marshes and rice paddies to high altitude treeless bogs and moors, swampy forest clearings, and seasonally-flooded riverine forest. In areas of Central Asia drierpine or pine/birch forests are used in the absence of wetter areas. Heavily wooded areas are generally avoided while inaccessible sites such as quaking bogs are preferred. (W2.Nov2013.w9)
    • The cranes need an inaccessible ground nesting site, preferably with a wide field of vision, but impassable bog areas near tall woodlands such as Alder (Alnus) and small swampy clearings in dense pine forests are used as well as reedy wetlands. At higher latitudes/altitudes, they breed on treeless moorlands, Spagnum bogs, dwarf heath (usually in moist/wet conditions where there are pools or small lakes. (B104)
      • Note: remaining appropriate nesting sites may be inadequate for feeding, such that families have to fly some distance to foraging grounds. (B104)
  • Winter:
    • Wetlands or other shallow waters for roosting, and nearby pastures and agricultural fields for feeding. (B107.w8)
    • Open country. Marshes, grasslands and cultivated areas. (B104)
    • After the breeding season, they are found in traditional roosting and assembly areas in floodlands, shallow sheltered bays and swampy rivers; they may fly 20 km from such sites to forage in fields. (B104)
    • During moult, flightless birds use high reeds for concealment or stay in wide shallow waters. (B104, W2.Nov2013.w9)

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Intraspecific variation

Sometimes two subspecies have been recognised (Grus grus lilfordi in the eastern part of the range, Grus grus grus in the western part of the range), but these are not now generally considered valid. (B107.w8)

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Conservation Status

Wild Population -
  • Not globally threatened. The species as a whole is stable; some eastern populations may be declining while some western populations may be recovering. (B107.w8)

  • Total population estimated at 220,000-250,000 (only European and European Russian populations are regularly and reliably surveyed). (B107.w8)

  • In much of the historical range of southern, western and eastern Europe this crane has been extirpated as a breeding species: last known breeding in England in about 1600, in Italy about 1880, in Austria about 1885, Hungary 1952 and Greece 1965. (B107.w8)

  • The Common crane has a large range (estimated 10,000,000 km²) and large global population (estimated at 270,000) (2002). (W2.Dec06.w11)

  • The range of this species has declined markedly since the Middle Ages, particularly in the south and west of its range. In several countries it is no longer found; this has occurred mainly due to drainage of its nesting areas. The decline probably continues on the periphery of the common crane's range. (B104)


  • Loss and degradation of breeding range wetlands. (B107.w8)

    • Particularly due to construction of dams, agricultural expansion 9with e.g. intensification, irrigation,conversion of holm oak pastures), and urbanisation.

  • Human pressures on wintering wetlands. (B107.w8)

  • Disturbanceby recreational activities and tourism resulting in nest disturbance and subsequent increased risk of nest predation. (W2.Nov2013.w9)

  • Changes in agricultural use. (B107.w8)

  • Persecution due to crop damage. (B107.w8)

  • Hunting in some areas, particularly Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also other areas. (B107.w8, W2.Nov2013.w9)

  • Egg collecting, particularly in Turkey. (W2.Nov2013.w9)

  • Along the migratory route, habitat loss and fragmentation; increased congregation and competition in remaining suitable sites.

  • Poisoning both on migration and wintering grounds, particularly where dependent on agricultural grain. (W2.Nov2013.w9)

  • Collisions with utility lines: this is particularly the major cause of adult mortality in Spanish wintering sites. (W2.Nov2013.w9)


  • Mainly in the western range; regular meetings of the European Crane Working Group. (B107.w8)

  • Protection for key wintering and migratory sites: reserves created, agreements with key landowners, particularly in France, Germany and Spain. (B107.w8)

  • In Europe, western Siberia and eastern Asia, ringing and telemetry studies. (B107.w8)

  • In Europe, Russia, Pakistan, India, Nepal and China, extensive field studies. (B107.w8)

  • In Western Europe, Pakistan, Russia and other areas, education. (B107.w8)

  • In central Germany, in the Kremmener Luch nature reserve, roosting sites have been produced for the cranes, providing panoramic visibility, by removal of vegetation such as willow bushes ,reeds and bog grass. (W2.Nov2013.w9)

  • Utility line burial or relocation has been carried out in some areas. (W2.Nov2013.w9)

  • Diversionary feeding with waste grain in some areas, away from agricultural crops. (W2.Nov2013.w9)

General Legislation --
CITES listing CITES II. (B107.w8)
Red-data book listing
  • Least Concern ver 3.1, 2012 (W2.Nov2013.w9)
    • Previously classified as Least Concern in 2009, 2008, 2004. (W2.Nov2013.w9)
  • Least Concern. The Common crane has a large range (estimated 10,000,000 km²) and large global population (estimated at 270,000). "Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e., declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern. " [2004](W2.Dec06.w11)

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Captive Populations


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