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Crane Life

Young Crane. Credit: John Crispin
Young Crane. Credit: John Crispin

They're big!

  • Cranes stand up to four feet (1.2 m) tall and are 20 per cent larger than a grey heron. Cranes are on of the tallest of all breeding brids in the UK, with a wingspan up to eight feet  (2.2 - 2.45 m) – even bigger than a white-tailed eagle!

They like to dance and be social

  • Cranes are social birds, gregarious for most of the year 
  • They're faithful partners, with pair-bonds apparently life-long  
  • Cranes' dancing display is performed by solitary birds, pairs and flocks throughout the year, but most frequent in spring  
  • Their bugling call is one of the loudest and most striking of all bird calls and can be heard up to three miles away

Cranes need space

  • Cranes live for up to 14 years. They don't breed until they're about four years old 
  • During the breeding season, breeding pairs disperse to suitable breeding pools, but non-breeding adults and adolescent birds form groups of six to 10 birds in summering grounds  
  • Pairs usually lay two eggs, and in most years only raise one chick. Young leave the nest within a day, but they are fed by their parents for up to 10 weeks  
  • Cranes breed in a wide range of wetland habitats including wet meadows, wet woodlands, swamps and reedbeds and need to be free from disturbance. 
  • Crane nests are wet mounds of vegetation in small, permanently wet areas of about 5,000 square metres  (half a hectare) Eggs are laid in April to early May, with incubation lasting 28-31 days and chicks fledging at 65-70 days

Cranes eat all sorts of things... but not fish!

  • Each breeding pair needs an areas of suitable feeding habitat close to hand, supporting large numbers of grasshoppers, spiders and other invertebrates for their chicks 
  • They are omnivorous and take a wide range of prey, including plants seeds and roots, worms, snails, insecsts, spiders, moths and butterflies, caterpillars, craneflies, dragonflies and sometimes frogs and small mammals. As insect numbers fall off in winter, they switch to a more  vegetarian diet and can ofern be found on cereal stubbles. Adult cranes fly up to 12.5 miles (20 km) to feed  

Keeping safe

  • In winter, cranes need safe roosting sites such as shallow open water and reedbeds, and suitable feeding areas such as cereal stubbles and wet grassland 
  • Suitable roosting and feeding sites may occur some distance apart and birds commute between roosts and feeding sites during the day where necessary 
  • Every three or so years the birds undergo a moult where they become flightless for a few weeks. Safe and undisturbed roosting areas are critical during this vulnerable stage.

Field Guide to Crane Behaviour

You can download a Field Guide to Crane Behaviour (pdf) here. The guide has been produced and shared to the project from the International Crane Foundation based in Baraboo, Wisconsin.
Visit their website to learn how to make your own origami Crane »

Listen to the Cranes

A duet of calls made by a pair of cranes at their nest site. A second pair answers. Recorded end of March, 5.30am by Immo Tetzlaff. Click on the title below to listen.