Common Crane: The Ultimate Guide


The Common Crane, scientific name Grus Grus is a large species that is recognized for its long legs and neck. It has dark ruffled tail feathers and is mainly slate grey in color especially on its back and rump.

Both the lores and forehead are black whilst its crown is red with a white stripe extending from the eyes, down the neck towards the upper back. Their eyes are red and they have three toes.

An adult Common Crane typically measures between 100 (39 inches, 3ft) to 130 cm (51 inches, 4.3ft). Although this bird may be large, it is known for its graceful movements. They usually weigh between 3 to 6.1kg (6.61 Lbs to 13.4 Lbs) though this is going to be determined by the subspecies.

Male vs Female

There are not huge differences in the appearance of male and female Common Cranes. They look fairly similar with the exception that males are usually heavier and slightly larger than females. Male common cranes are also known to be a little more territorial than females.

Juvenile Common Cranes have a chestnut colored head, but they do not have a bare patch until they reach adulthood. They have dull colored feathers with yellow tips, a grey throat, legs, and eyes. Moreover, young common cranes are yet to develop their bulky tails.  

Are They Aggressive?

Generally, common cranes tend to be social and active birds that spend the majority of their day foraging for prey. This is usually done in small groups consisting of either family members or pairs.

Should the common crane feel threatened it will jab with its wings or use its feet to kick. Occasionally, a common crane may display other aggressive behaviors such as ruffling its feathers or pointing the red patch on its head in the direction of its opponent. 

It is worth noting that most Crane species are more territorial during the mating season than they are during other seasons. Typically, when common cranes go foraging, they will work together to achieve the same end goal. 

What Adaptations Do They Have?

You will often find that the physical characteristics of birds adapt according to the demands of the environment that they inhabit.

Common Cranes have not experienced any major adaptations, however, just like many other species, they have had to adapt to possible nest disturbances as well as changes in land and the introduction of human settlements in some areas. 

Due to a loss of wetland habitat and dangers of hunting, the population of the Common Crane did experience a decline, however, it has since started to increase again.  

Breeding/ Reproduction Behaviour

Common cranes are monogamous breeders that remain with the same partner for life. The majority of cranes do not begin breeding until they are between 3 and 5 years old. Mating typically occurs during springtime.

To attract the attention of its partner, a common crane will dance and spread its wings. It will also throw vegetation from the ground into the air. Although a courtship tends to be long lasting, this ritual is still performed every year during the mating season.

Should a mate die, a common crane will usually attempt to form a bond with another partner the following year. 

Normally, a common crane will lay 1 to 2 eggs and on rare occasions as many as 4. The female will then spend the following month incubating these eggs and although it is less common, the males will sometimes take on this responsibility too.

When the females are incubating the eggs, the males will head out on a search for food.  

Their Calls/ Sounds

In general, cranes are a vocal species that are known for producing a sound that can be heard from afar.

Common cranes in particular are renowned for their loud, rolling call which is often used as a communication signal to ensure that the flock stays together and also to alert members of possible threats. 

What Do They Eat (Diet)

As omnivores, the diet of a common crane mainly consists of plant matter such as fruit, leaves, and seeds.

During mating season, their feeding habits will change slightly as they begin eating insects, snails, small rodents, earthworms, spiders and crabs, etc. Young common cranes are fed by their parents, however, once they reach the age of 3 months, they will become self-sufficient. 

Where Do They Live (Habitat)

Common Cranes are found in Europe, North Africa, and Asia. Preferred breeding habitats In Europe include mixed forests and Taiga forests.

However, in Northern climates, they prefer to live and breed near bogs and treeless moors where there is a lake of some kind available. 

What Are Their Nesting Habits?

The nesting location will differ depending on the habitat. Typically, the pair will find somewhere quiet that is close to open water, plants, and animals.

They will then start to make a nest out of vegetation and leaves. This nest will then be returned to for many years. 

Initially, the family will remain close to this nest for the first weeks, however, they will then begin to venture further afield as the chicks get older. 

How Long Do They Live (Lifespan)

Common cranes are expected to live for approximately 20 years in the wild. There have been occasions where common cranes have lived longer than this and have reached the age of 30 to 40. 

What Predators Do They Have?

Most crane species face threats from the same animals. This typically includes foxes, wildcats, and eagles.

Foxes have been known to take the eggs and chicks are at particular risk of threat from these ground animals because at a young age they are not properly able to defend themselves. 

There are many predators that will refrain from threatening or challenging cranes and this is mainly because they are intimidated by their large bodies. 

What Are Their Feathers Like?

As mentioned, common cranes are known for their curved tail feathers. These tend to be black whilst the feathers on their body are usually a slate gray color.

It is essentially the colors of these feathers that make it easy to distinguish the common crane from other species. 

Young common cranes do not have feathers that droop on their wings but the feathers that they do have are mainly dark with yellow tips.

What Does Their Poop Look Like?

There is not a lot of information available regarding the poop of a common crane, however, the majority of crane species are known to deposit feces that are fairly substantial in size.  

Do They Migrate?

Whilst there are some crane species that do not migrate at all, others migrate over a rather long distance.

The common crane usually heads to North Africa to migrate during the winter months and inhabit flooded and swampy land, then autumn migration occurs between August and October. Once winter migration has passed, common cranes will sometimes be found in more open areas. 

Conservation Status

In Europe, there are believed to be around 113,000 to 185,000 pairs of common cranes. Unfortunately, this species faces threats from hunting, and depending on the country, it will sometimes be killed if it is caught causing damage to agriculture and crops.

At one time, population numbers began to decrease as a result of habitat loss due to urbanization. For these reasons you will find that the common crane is a protected species in most countries. 

Today, population numbers of the common crane are increasing and because of this, it is currently classified as a species that is of least concern. 

Fun Facts

  • Although they are not related, the crane species in general shares a similar appearance to herons and storks. 
  • Besides the demoiselle crane, the common crane is one of the only crane species that is often found in Europe. 
  • Whilst the common crane has been extinct in Ireland for many years, it still plays a crucial role in Irish culture and folklore. 
  • The wingspan of a common crane is between 220 and 245 cm (87 and 96 inches). 
  • The population of common cranes has increased in recent years thanks to careful attempts to reintroduce this species to different areas. Not only is it now protected in most states but in some countries, it has also benefited from habitat restoration (a loss in habitat was one of the main causes for the decline).
  • Common cranes are known for their famous dance which involves them fluffing their feathers, flapping their wings, and throwing their heads back. This display helps them to create lasting bonds with other members of the species. 

Final Thoughts

There you have it, the ultimate guide to Common Cranes. As you can see, there are many exciting things to know about this species, from its unique appearance to its dancing ritual and diet habits. This bird is primarily recognized for its large size.

Although population numbers were once on the decline, they have now started to increase again with common cranes now being found in places where they once disappeared for quite some time.

They have impressive lifespans, do not face a huge number of threats from predators, and stay with the same partner for the duration of their lives.