The common or Eurasian crane is a large, graceful bird, known for its dancing display and long tail feathers. They have recently been reintroduced to the UK after their population was devastated by the draining of the fens 300 years ago.
Scientific name: Grus grus
Status: Resident breeding species and passage migrant
Breeding birds: 48 pairs
Wintering birds: 150 pairs
UK passage: 40 birds
Conservation status: Amber
Length: 110 – 120 cm
Wingspan: 220 – 250 cm
Weight: 4 – 7 kg
Cranes have slate-grey plumage with a darker back and rump and paler breast and wings. The tips of their primary and secondary flight feathers are black as are the edges of their upper tail coverts, and they have long, drooping greater coverts.
Their upper neck, throat, face, and nape are black, and they have a white streak extending from their eyes to the hind neck. They have a distinctive red patch of bare skin on the top of their crowns. They have grey bills with a red patch at the base., red eyes, and long black legs with 3 long toes.
Male and female cranes look similar, but males are slightly larger and heavier than females.
Juvenile cranes have dull yellow tips to their body feathers, a grey throat, and a chestnut head with no bare patch. Their tails are less bulky. They have brown or dark grey legs, and brown or grey eyes.
Every two years adult cranes completely moult before migration leaving them flightless for 6 weeks while their new feathers grow.
During breeding season cranes, who are usually gregarious, become territorial. Breeding takes place in May near shallow water in dense vegetation, and they are solitary nesters. The nest is a large platform made from dry grass built on the ground.
Cranes lay 1 or 2 eggs which are incubated mainly by the female for 4 weeks. The chicks are precocial and can swim soon after hatching and run at about 24 hours. They fledge at 2 months but stay with their parents until the end of the first winter. They reach sexual maturity at 3-5 years.
Cranes eat a variety of plant matter including seeds, cereals, acorns, and roots. They will also eat insects, molluscs, and small crustaceans.
Where to see them
Cranes can be found all year round in the UK but are most likely to be seen during migration in April and early May in the south and west. There is a small breeding population in Norfolk.
Did you know?
Despite being extinct in Ireland for over 200 years cranes play an important part in Irish culture and folklore. Cranes are a symbol of envy and there are a number of stories about women transformed into cranes by rivals.