Crane Taxonomy and Systemics

There are 15 living species of cranes in four genera:


Genus Balearica

Black Crowned Crane, Balearica pavonina


The Black Crowned Crane occurs in dry savannah in Africa south of the Sahara, although in nests in somewhat wetter habitats. There are two subspecies: B. p. pavonina in the west and the more numerous B. p. ceciliae in east Africa.This species and the closely related Grey Crowned CraneB. regulorum, which prefers wetter habitats for foraging, are the only cranes that can nest in trees. This habit, amongst other things, is a reason the relatively small Balearica cranes are believed to closely resemble the ancestral members of the Gruidae. It is about 1 m long, has a 1.87 m wingspan and weighs about 3.6 kg.

Like all cranes, the Black Crowned Crane eats insects, reptiles, and small mammals. It is endangered, especially in the west, by habitat loss and degradation.

Grey Crowned CraneBalearica regulorum

Hlatikulu. KwaZulu Natal. South Africa.

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SUBFAMILY GRUINAE – typical cranes

Genus Grus

Common or Eurasian Cranes


 The Common Crane (Grus grus), also known as the Eurasian Crane, is a bird of the family Gruidae, the cranes. The scientific name is from the Latin; grus, “crane”.
A medium-sized species, it is the only crane commonly found in Europe besides the Demoiselle Crane (Anthropoides virgo). Along with the Sandhill (Grus canadensis), the Demoiselle Crane and the Brolga (Grus rubicunda), it is one of only four crane species not currently classified as threatened with extinction or conservation dependent at the species level.


The Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) is a species of large cranes of North America and extreme north eastern Siberia. The common name refers to the birds prefered habitat in the area of the Platte River, on the edge of Nebraska’s Sandhills on the North American Plains. This is the most important stopover area for the nominotypical subspecies, the Lesser Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis canadensis), with up to 450,000 of these birds migrating through the area annually.

Female whooping crane named Oobleck hunting in a pond at the International Crane Foundation, Grus americana, International Crane Foundation, Baraboo, Wisconsin, USA, (Photo by Wild Horizons/UIG via Getty Images)

Female whooping crane named Oobleck hunting in a pond at the International Crane Foundation, International Crane Foundation, Baraboo, Wisconsin, USA, (Photo by Wild Horizons/UIG via Getty Images)



The Whooping Crane (Grus americana), the tallest North American bird, is named for its whooping call.

Along with the Sandhill Crane, it is one of only two crane species found in North America. The Whooping Crane’s lifespan is estimated to be 22 to 24 years in the wild. After being pushed to the brink of extinction by unregulated hunting and loss of habitat to just 21 wild and two captive whooping cranes by 1941, conservation efforts have led to a limited recovery. As of February 2015, the total population was 603 including 161 captive birds.


The Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) is a large non-migratory crane found in parts of the Indian subcontinent, South- east Asia and Australia. The tallest of all flying birds, standing at a height of up to 1.8 m, they are a conspicuous and iconic species of open wetlands. The Sarus Crane is easily distinguished from other cranes in the region by the overall grey colour and the contrasting red head and upper neck. They forage on marshes and shallow wetlands for roots, tubers, insects, crustaceans and small vertebrate prey. Like other cranes, they form long-lasting pair-bonds and maintain territories within which they perform territorial and courtship displays that include loud trumpeting, leaps and dance-like movements. In India they are considered symbols of marital fidelity, believed to mate for life and pine the loss of their mates even to the point of starving to death. The main breeding season is during the rainy season, when the pair builds an enormous nest “island”, a circular platform of reeds and grasses nearly two metres in diameter and high enough to stay above the shallow water surrounding it. Sarus Crane numbers have declined greatly in the last century and it has been estimated that the current population is a tenth or less (perhaps 2.5%) of the numbers that existed in the 1850s. The stronghold of the species is in India, where it is traditionally revered and lives in agricultural lands in close proximity to humans. Elsewhere, the species has been extirpated in many parts of its former range.


The Brolga (Grus rubicunda), formerly known as the Native Companion, . It has also been given the name Australian Crane, a term coined in 1865 by well-known ornithological artist John Gould in his Birds of Australia.

The Brolga is a common, gregarious wetland bird species of tropical and south-eastern Australia and New Guinea. It is a tall, upright bird with a small head, long beak, slender neck and long legs. The plumage is mainly grey, with black wing tips, and it has an orange-red band of colour on its head. It is well known for its intricate mating dance. The nest is built of sticks on an island in marshland and usually two eggs are laid. Incubation takes 32 days and the newly hatched young are precocial. The adult diet is mostly plant matter, but invertebrates and small vertebrates are also eaten.

Although the bird is not considered endangered over the majority of its range, populations are showing some decline, especially in southern Australia, and local action plans are being undertaken in some areas. It is the official bird emblem of the state of Queensland.


The Siberian Crane  (Leucogeranus leucogeranus), also known as the Siberian White Crane or the Snow Crane, is a bird of the family Gruidae.

They are distinctive among cranes in that adults are predominantly snowy white, with only their primary feathers being black, which makes them only visible in flight.

There are two breeding populations, one in the Arctic tundra of western and eastern Russia. The eastern populations migrate during winter to China while the western population winters in Iran and formerly, in India and Nepal. Among the cranes, they make the longest distance migrations.

The populations, particularly those in the western range, have declined drastically in the 20th century due to hunting along their migration routes and habitat degradation. The world population was estimated to be about 3,200 birds, in 2010. Mostly belonging to the eastern population with about 95% of them wintering in the Poyang Lake basin in China, a habitat that may be altered by the Three Gorges Dam. In western Siberia there are only around ten of these cranes in the wild.


The White-naped Crane (Grus vipio) is a large bird, 112–125 cm long, approximately 130 cm tall and weighing about 5.6 kg. They have pinkish legs, grey and white striped neck, and a red face patch.

The White-naped Crane breeds in north-eastern Mongolia, north-eastern China, and adjacent areas of south-eastern Russia where a programme at Khingan Nature Reserve raises crane eggs provided from U.S. zoos to bolster the species. Different groups of the birds migrate to winter near the Yangtze River, the DMZ in Korea and on Kyūshū in Japan. They also reach Kazakhstan and Taiwan. Only about 4,900 and 5,400 individuals remain in the wild.

Its diet consists mainly of insects, seeds, roots, plants and small animals.

Due to ongoing habitat loss and overhunting in some areas, the White-naped Crane is deemed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  It is listed on Appendix I and II of CITES.


The Hooded Crane (Grus monacha) is a small, dark crane. It has a grey body. The top of the neck and head is white, except for a patch of bare red skin above the eye. It is one of the smallest cranes, but is still a fairly large bird, at 1 m long, 3.7 kg and a wingspan of 1.87 m.

The Hooded Crane breeds in south-central and south-eastern Siberia. Breeding is also suspected to occur in Mongolia. Over 80% of its population winters at Izumi, southern Japan. There are also wintering grounds in South Korea and China. Approximately 100 hooded cranes winter in Chongming Dongtan, Shanghai every year. Dongtan Nature Reserve is the largest natural wintering site in the world. In December 2011, a hooded crane was seen overwintering at the Hiwassee Refuge in south-eastern Tennessee, well outside its normal range. In February 2012, one was seen at Goose Pond in southern Indiana, and is suspected to be the same bird, which may have migrated to North America by following sandhill cranes.

The estimated population of the species is 11,600 individuals. The major threats to its survival are wetland loss and degradation in its wintering grounds in China and South Korea as a result of reclamation for development and dam building. Conservation activities have been taken since 2008. Local universities, NGOs and communities are working together for a better and safer wintering location.

The Hooded Crane is evaluated as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is listed on Appendix I and II of CITES. A society, Grus monacha International Aid , has been formed to find ways to protect the species.


The Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) is a medium-sized Asian crane that breeds on the Tibetan Plateau and remote parts of India and Bhutan. It is 139 cm  long with a 235 cm  wingspan, and weighs 5.5 kg. It is whitish-gray, with a black head, red crown patch, black upper neck and legs, and white patch to the rear of the eye. It has black primaries and secondaries. Both sexes are similar. Some populations are known to make seasonal movements. It is revered in Buddhist traditions and culturally protected across much of its range. A festival in Bhutan celebrates the bird while the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir considers it to be the state bird.


The Red-crowned Crane (Grus japonensis), also called the Japanese Crane or Manchurian Crane, is a large East Asian crane 158 cm, tall, weighing 7.5 kg. The total  population is only between 1,700 – 2,000 birds and declining  IUCN: EN; ESA: E; Cites Appendix I; CMS I, II

Red-crowned Cranes are the only crane species that have white primary feathers. Adult forehead and crown are covered with bare red skin, and a large white band extends from behind the eyes and meets sharply with the black lower neck. The majority of the body is pure white with the exception of black secondary and tertiary feathers. Eyes are black and legs are slatey to grayish black. Males and females are virtually indistinguishable, although males tend to be slightly larger in size.

Juveniles are a combination of white, partly tawny, cinnamon brown, and/or grayish plumage. The neck collar is grayish to coffee brown, the secondaries are dull black and brown, and the crown and forehead are covered with gray and tawny feathers. The legs and bill are similar to those of adults, but lighter in color. The primaries are white, tipped with black, as are the upper primary coverts. At two years of age the primaries are replaced with all white feathers.

In some parts of its range, it is known as a symbol of luck, longevity and fidelity.

Genus Anthropoides

Blue CraneAnthropoides paradisea    


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Grue demoiselle. Famille des Gruidés. Ordre : Gruiformes


The Demoiselle Crane  is a species of crane found in central Eurasia, ranging from the Black Sea to Mongolia and North Eastern China. There is also a small breeding population in Turkey. These cranes are migratory birds. Birds from western Eurasia will spend the winter in Africa, whilst the birds from Asia, Mongolia and China will spend the winter in the Indian subcontinent. The bird is symbolically significant in the culture of North India, where it is known as the koonj.

Genus Bugeranus

The Wattled Crane To find out more, click on the image