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South Africa crowned crane

South Africa crowned crane

Sub-stem : Vertebrates (vertebrata)
Superclass : Jaw mouths (Gnathostomata)
Row : Land vertebrates (Tetrapoda)
Class : Birds (aves)
Order : Crane birds (Gruiformes)
Family : Cranes
Scientific name
Vigors , 1825

The cranes ( Gruidae ) are a family from the order of the crane birds ( Gruiformes ). The German name of the animals is derived from the Arabic gharānīq . The representative of this order, native to Central and Northern Europe, is the gray crane . With their long neck and long legs, cranes are reminiscent of wading birds , to which they are not related. They are represented worldwide with 15 species and are only missing in South America and the Antarctic. They have their main distribution in Asia and Africa.

Many species do not breed until they are four or five years old, and juvenile mortality is high. It is therefore very difficult for them to compensate for a drop in stocks. Numerous species are therefore very endangered. These include the whooping crane , the red-crowned crane and the Siberian Crane .


Crane in the evening light ( grus grus )
South Africa crowned crane in flight

Cranes are large to very large birds, which with their long neck and legs are reminiscent of storks and herons . With a body length between 90 and 150 cm, they are among the largest birds at all. The Sarus crane stands upright from the ground to the top of the head 176 cm high, higher than any other flightable bird. The weight of the cranes reaches up to 12 kg (Red-crowned crane). Males are slightly larger and heavier than females, otherwise there is no sexual dimorphism .

Gray and white tones predominate in the plumage of the cranes. In general, the northernmost cranes are the brightest and largest representatives, while the species become darker and smaller towards the south. Black plumage is mainly found on the neck, tail and hand wings, but not in all species. Only the cranes of the genus Anthropoides have completely feathered heads. In other cranes, bright red bare skin stands out, which is different in size. The Klunkerkranich also has two noticeable throat sacs. Crowned cranes have a smaller throat pouch and a yellow feather hood on the top.

Like storks, cranes fly with their necks stretched out, while the herons keep their necks in flight in an S-shape. The legs are stretched backwards horizontally. The foot of the Crowned Cranes is clearly anisodactyl , that is, three toes are pointing forwards and one is pointing backwards. In contrast, the back toe of the other cranes (Gruinae) is stunted.

Anatomically, the Gruinae have a greatly enlarged windpipe, the bony rings of which are fused with the breastbone. This characteristic, which the Crowned Cranes lack, is used to utter loud calls.

Accordingly, the calls of the Crowned Cranes are relatively quiet, while the Cranes of the genus Grus can utter extremely loud, trumpet-like calls. The typical repertoire of cranes includes a contact call, a warning call, a call made before departure and a duet call that accompanies the mating. The latter is the loudest.

A sandhill crane flying up

distribution and habitat

Early returnees in Mecklenburg

Representatives of the crane can be found on all continents of the world except in Antarctica and South America. The species of the genus inhabit Grus the arctic and temperate regions of the northern hemisphere; The only exceptions are the South Asian Sarus Crane and the Australian Brolga Crane. The other genera are found in tropical and subtropical latitudes in Africa and Asia. The cranes were exterminated on the British Isles in the 17th century, but since 2010 the Great Crane Project has been trying to reintroduce them to the south of England.

The preferred habitat of the cranes are open landscapes such as the tundra or the savannah . Many species are bound to water and therefore mainly occur in swampy habitats. The species of the genus Anthropoides also occur in arid grasslands and semi-deserts.

While some species of crane are resident birds in warmer climates , those in colder climates are migratory birds that have to cover long distances of several thousand kilometers. The snow crane migrates from the far north of Siberia to Iran, India and southern China; some populations of the sandhill crane migrate from the arctic regions of Canada and Alaska to Florida and Mexico. Cranes migrate in a V-formation at heights of about 2000 m, in exceptional cases even 10,000 m. Typically 300 km, sometimes even 800 km, are covered in a day. The flight speed is 60 to 80 km / h.

Way of life


Sandhill crane on nest
Sandhill crane eating with young

Cranes are diurnal birds that are most active in the morning and evening. At night they rest on trees (Crowned cranes) or on the ground (Gruinae). While solitary during the breeding season, they are otherwise gregarious birds that appear in large flocks.

A well-known behavior of the cranes is "dancing". Dances play a role in pairing, and in birds that have already been paired, they serve to strengthen the pair bond. However, the dances are also performed outside of the mating season and are clearly polyfunctional in a number of species. They reflect the well-being of the birds and also play a certain role in the cohesion between parents and adolescent young birds. The most active are juvenile and subadult birds. When dancing, the birds jump with outstretched wings, make bowing movements, kick their feet in the air, make loud calls and throw grass and other objects into the air with their bills. The exact form of the dance varies from species to species.

Since most crane species are distinctly territorial birds, at least during the breeding season, their ritual signal movements also include threatening gestures. These, too, differ in their detailed form from species to species. The gray crane, for example, with its wings slightly raised, quickly lowers its head to the ground, then straightens it and then lays it on its back. Then the wings are lowered and threatening calls are uttered. In the barnacle crane, considered one of the most territorial and aggressive cranes, demonstrations of aggression make up a large part of its ritualized behavior. His threatening gestures also include a demonstrative approach to the rival, in which the crane lifts his leg before the next step, lifts his neck vertically and presses his beak against his neck.


Cranes are omnivores that eat both vegetable (seeds, roots, leaves, herbs, grasses, nuts, berries) and animal (worms, mollusks, insects, crustaceans, fish, frogs, lizards, rodents). Cranes roam around in search of food, so they do not stand in wait in one place like the heron. Different foods may be preferred in different seasons.

The short-beaked species (gray crane, young crane, crowned crane, etc.) graze like geese and eat what is available on the surface. In contrast, the long-beaked species (snow crane, Sarus crane, Brolga crane, etc.) dig in soft, moist soil for roots and other food.


The breeding season of the cranes begins in the northern temperate and polar zones between April and June. In contrast, it is variable in the tropics. Some species breed there during the rainy season , others at any time of the year. Cranes are monogamous . The couples usually stay together until one partner dies. If the broods of a pair are permanently unsuccessful, however, premature separation can occur.

At the beginning of the breeding season, cranes that have formed a pair perform the typical dances. In the case of the couples who have already found each other in one of the previous breeding seasons, there are no dances, here copulation occurs immediately. Copulation is followed by mutual preening of plumage.

Both partners participate in the construction of the nest . Usually cranes nest on the ground; only crowned cranes build their nests on trees, but even with them this is the exception. Young crane and paradise crane occasionally do not build a nest at all, but lay the eggs on the bare ground. Usually, cranes build a nest out of piled plant material in swampy terrain. In almost all species, the clutch consists of two eggs. Rock cranes sometimes only lay one egg, while crown cranes usually lay three to four eggs. The color of the eggs is white or bluish in tropical species, darker in species from colder climates. Dark eggs absorb the scarce sunlight in the north, while light eggs reflect it. The eggs of most types of crane are covered with a pattern of spots.

The brood lasts an average of thirty days. Both partners breed, but the proportion of the female is higher. Females breed all night, while partners take turns during the day. Both parents also take part in feeding the young. The nest is left after a few days, so that the young look for food themselves. However, they are still dependent on the protection of their parents for a long time. Jungfernkraniche become independent after 55 to 60 days, Klunkerkraniche after 90 to 130 days. Often only one of the young gets through because the first hatched young is stronger and prevents its sibling from accessing food. With the snow crane, the parents with the first cub always leave the nest before the second hatch, so that the latter is always left to fend for itself and starve to death.

Tribal history

The older group of cranes are the crowned cranes, which have been known to be fossilized since the Eocene . Crowned cranes also lived in Europe and North America at that time. The "real" cranes (Gruinae) have been fossilized since the Miocene . A leg bone of today's Canadian crane from the Pliocene period was found in Wyoming . In the middle to late Pleistocene , many of today's crane species were already at home in their current range.


Cranes are assigned to the crane birds . Within this order, their closest relatives are the black-wheeled crane , the trumpet bird and the bustard .

Traditionally, cranes are divided into two subfamilies. The crown cranes (Balearicinae) of the resonance space at the missing real cranes is formed (Gruinae) through the enlarged and tortuous trachea. While the Crowned Cranes only comprise two species, the majority of the species belong to the Gruinae. Here, in turn, the genus Grus represents by far the most species. The subdivision into groups of species, as made in the overview below, follows Archibald with the corrections proposed by Krajewski; it was made on the basis of similarities in the calls.

Subfamily Crowned Cranes (Balearicinae)

Subfamily Common Cranes (Gruinae)

The relationship of the crane species to one another was examined in molecular genetic analyzes. The DNA-DNA hybridization by Krajewski and the cytochrome b analyzes by Krajewski and Fetzner came to similar results. Here, the species groups below Grus were confirmed as monophyletic , but not the genus Grus , which is paraphyletic in relation to the genera Bugeranus and Anthropoides . A Krajewski and Fetzner cladogram looks like this:

 Gruidae (cranes)  

 Barnacle crane ( Grus leucogeranus )


 Grus , species group grus


 Grus , species group antigone


 Sandhill crane ( Grus canadensis )


 Virgin and Paradise Crane ( Anthropoides )


 Wattled crane ( Bugeranus )


 Crowned Cranes ( Balearica )

Crane and man

Cranes in culture

Etymology and naming

The name Kranich is etymologically derived from the old German words "Kran", "Kranch" and "Krye". The English word "Crane" is closely related. There is a reference to the Greek word "Geranos", from which the Latin "Grus" should be derived. The Italian word “Gru”, the French “Grue” and the Spanish “Grulla” come from this. According to Isidore of Seville , the name Grus can also be derived from the Latin “congruere” (to agree). Thus, the names refer to both the trumpet-like call of this bird and its synchronous behavior.

Etymologists have also found some name relationships. The cranberries that the crane like to eat are called "cranberries" in English. The French word "Pedigree" (family tree) comes from the old French "Pied de grue" (foot of the crane), as the lineages resembled the toes on the foot of the crane. The long-necked lifting device of the "geranos" - the forerunner of today's " crane " - was already equipped in ancient times in the Euripides theater .

Mythology and cult

Crane art object in Jiayuguan (China)

In Greek mythology , the crane was assigned to both Apollo , the god of the sun and Demeter , the earth and fertility goddess, and Hermes as the messenger of spring and light. The augurs (priests) in Greece read from the flight formations of the cranes. In addition, cranes were considered a symbol of vigilance and wisdom.

According to Homer's Iliad , an army of man-eating cranes is said to have moved south to hunt the pygmies in the Nile Marshes . In addition, Homer mentions the "dance of Ariadne", which was found after Pausanias in Knossos on Crete. The Greek Theseus is said to have introduced a dance called geranos on the island of Delos. He had this dance, modeled on the corridors of the maze of Crete, from his lover, the Cretan king's daughter Ariadne , who in turn had learned it from the famous craftsman and inventor Daidalos . Aristotle describes him as the bird that is extremely vigilant and moves "from the Scythian plains into the swamps above Egypt".

The Celtic god Ogma is said to have invented the Ogham script after he had observed the flight of the cranes, which were considered the keepers of the secret of this script. In Ireland , peasants asked the goddess Manannan , who carried a crane skin bag with the treasures of the sea, good seeds and the seafarers a safe journey. The Agrippin people mentioned in the legend of Duke Ernst consisted of a hybrid of man and crane. They harassed a dwarf people until Ernst could free them from them. The name "bird of happiness" is derived in Sweden from the arrival of the crane as a sign of spring, which introduces warmth, light and abundance of food.

Origami cranes - symbol of a long life

In the old empire of China , the crane (鹤 hè) was a symbol for a long life, wisdom, old age and the relationship between father and son. In Chinese mythology, it was also known as the “sky crane ” or “blessed crane ”, as it was believed that Taoist priests turned into a feathered crane after their death or that the souls of the deceased were carried to heaven on the backs of cranes. In the Qing Dynasty , the crane was the badge of civil servants of the first rank.

In Japan , the crane is a symbol of luck and longevity. According to ancient Japanese legend, whoever folds 1,000 origami cranes will have a wish granted by the gods. A folded paper crane is still presented today on special occasions, such as weddings or birthdays. Since the death of the atomic bomb victim Sadako Sasaki , who fought against her radiation-induced leukemia by folding origami cranes , origami cranes have also been a symbol of the peace movement and the resistance to nuclear weapons .

On Hokkaidō , the women of the Ainu also perform a crane dance, just as in Korea a crane dance has been performed in the courtyard of the Tongdosa Temple since the Silla dynasty . The Central African queen of the pygmies , Gerana, is said to have been transformed into a crane, according to ancient stories, because she thought she was more admirable than the goddesses. The Aztecs originated according to legend from the region Aztlan , meaning "near the cranes." In superstition it is said that cranes circling around the house in the swarm announce that they will soon have offspring.


Coat of arms of the municipality of Kransberg

In heraldry, the crane is the symbol of caution and sleepless vigilance.

The motif comes from Greek sources that the flying crane carries stones in its beak in order not to betray itself through its own shouts over the Taurus and to fall into the clutches of the eagles . The crane has gained further meanings in the Roman culture. It was seen as a symbol of “Prudentia”, sensible and wise action, “Perseverantia”, perseverance, and “Custodia”, the diligence of action. From the "Vigilantia", the moral and military vigilance, the "Grus vigilans" arose. He holds up a stone with his claw so that if he falls asleep he would be woken up by the sound of falling. You can find this motif on many emblems , coats of arms and insignia , but also on houses and castles . So it says in the gable song of the crane house in Otterndorf:

The crane holds the stone to
fight off sleep.
He who surrenders to sleep
never gets good and honorable.

Church father Ambrose uses this image as a parable for the fear of God to protect against sin and the work of the devil. He also compares the falling of the stone with the call of the church (bells ringing). He also believes that people should imitate the cranes by supporting the strong against the weak.

Fairy tales, fables and literature

In old folk tales and traditions, the crane, which is usually associated with positive characteristics, appears as a herald of births and weddings, but also of war and death. In fables it is usually used to show human injustice and ingratitude.

The Yakut story The Crane Feather is about a crane who turns into a beautiful girl in order to marry a man of man. When one day he finds his stripped plumage again, he swings away so that he stands for the fleetingness of summer and love. The Russian fairy tale heron and crane and the Finnish fox and crane , in which the fox wants to learn to fly from him, also deal with this bird. In the German fable of the fox and crane , both invite each other to a meal that only the host can eat himself. Even Johann Wolfgang Goethe takes on this issue in a poem. The Aesopian fable of the wolf and crane is also wrong. Here the crane frees the wolf from the bone that has got stuck in its throat, but is cheated of its wages.

In the animal stories of Haanpääs, the crane is humanized and individualized. The story The Flügellahme Kranich is about a specimen that cannot move south and has to assert itself against its enemies in winter. This is also taking Theodor Fontane's poem The crane reference that tells how a crane with clipped wings longingly tried to move his peers and is ridiculed by a vain effort from the chickens.

The ancient Israelite prophet Jeremiah uses the migratory behavior of this bird as a parable (time of repentance) in the Bible ( Jeremiah 8, 7 ).

In poetry the crane is used symbolically for something “ sublime ” in nature. Wilhelm Busch's The Clever Crane alludes to the watchful bird that carries the stone. Friedrich Schiller inspired the story of the cranes, whose appearance betrayed the murderers of the poet Ibykus, to the famous ballad The Cranes of Ibykus . Johann Wolfgang Goethe leaves in Faust. A tragedy. (In front of the gate ) the protagonists complain:

"And over areas, over lakes
The crane strives for home."

The poems Der Kranich by Nikolaus Lenau , Die Kraniche by Nikolai Rubzow and Ewald Christian von Kleist's The Paralyzed Crane have this bird as their theme.

In Ernst Wiechert's Die Jeronim-Kinder , the crane describes how the egg robber Gogun steals the clutches and young birds in order to sell them to landowners. In Viktor S. Rozow's drama The Eternal Lovers , these birds are used as a motif for the death of the protagonist Boris. In Tschingis Aitmatov's novella Early Cranes , cranes appear as heralds of the approaching spring, love and joie de vivre, but also as a warning against war, alienation and division. Even Selma Lagerlof mentioned the Crane in The Wonderful Adventures of Nils in a chapter ( The great crane dance on Kullaberg ).

Music, art and film

Three Chinese symbols : pine, plum and crane (here red-crowned cranes ); by Shen Quan (1759)

In the opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny by Bertolt Brecht , a song dealing with the crane ( Do you see the cranes in a high arc ... ).

The crane can be found in the fine arts from the earliest times to the present day. It is a motif on blackboards and murals as well as on miniatures and illustrations . There are also craft and sculptural works made of textiles, ceramics , wood , stone , bronze , precious metals and other materials. This bird is particularly popular in Asia .

In Christian art, the mosaic of the Church of San Marco in Venice depicts cranes waiting with other birds to enter Noah's Ark . Albrecht Dürer shows Justitia with the stone-bearing crane at her side in an engraving .

In the film The Cranes Drag the Georgian director Mikhail Kalatosow , flying cranes form the motif when it comes to the death of the protagonist Boris.


The flying crane is a trademark of modern airlines . It is used by Japan Air Lines , Uganda Air Lines and Xiamen Air Lines in China. The German Lufthansa used him since 1926 as a logo, which in 1918 by Otto Firle in Berlin was created.

The operations department of the Austrian police , which was founded at Vienna-Schwechat airport on the occasion of the terrorist attack that took place there on December 27, 1985 , also bears the name " Operations Department Crane ". The name was chosen because of the bird's particular vigilance and probably in association with the flight.

Dealing with the real animal

Cranes as prey

From rock carvings found in Spanish caves as well as in Sweden , and the findings of bones in Neolithic settlements, we know that cranes were hunted in prehistoric times. Interestingly, bones from Roman times found in Hungary are about 10 to 20 percent larger than today's birds. Meat and eggs served as food, bones as tools and feathers as jewelry.

The ancient poet Horace saw him as "pleasant prey", if only he did not have so many tendons. Even today, birds are still offered for sale in some markets in Africa and India . In the Middle Ages , cranes were considered precious prey. The hunting book by Petrus de Crescentii describes the procedure. Accordingly, nets were stretched into which the birds were chased into at dusk. In his falcon book , the Codex De arte venandi cum avibus (About the Art of Hunting with Birds), the Staufer Emperor Frederick II depicted the crane in color miniatures in various activities.

Cranes as a pest

Cranes in Mecklenburg

According to a Byzantine peasant saying, it is easier "to cultivate the rock than fields and hills that have the crane as a neighbor". The ancient Greeks used nets, snares and limes to catch the crane as “seed robbers” and “clod crackers”. In Prussia , Friedrich Wilhelm I had cranes hunted "because of their great damage" to cultivate river valleys and floodplains.

Cranes as a timer

A number of peasant rules refer to the migration of the cranes, which is related to sowing and harvest. The Greek writer Hesiod already mentions the following:

"Notice as soon as you have heard the voice of the crane,
who annually sends you the call from the heights out of the clouds.
If he brings the warning to sowing, announces the winter shower ..."

- Hesiod

In addition, high-flying cranes should announce good weather.

Cranes as an ornamental bird

As ornamental poultry , gray and young cranes were kept in China (“bird of the first rank”) and in India (“most distinguished of all feathered birds ”) as well as in ancient Egypt . About 4,000 year old reliefs in Egyptian tombs from the time of the pharaohs tell of this . The mastaba of Ti also indicates that these birds were kept and fattened in semi-tame flocks as sacrificial animals.

From the writings of the Roman Varro it can be concluded that cranes were also kept later as domestic birds. They were used to guard the house and yard, to reliably warn of predators and birds of prey with their loud trumpet-like screams . However, when Charlemagne changed a Salic law, this custom was lost.

Protection of the cranes

The populations of many species declined sharply by the end of the 20th century. They were hunted as crop damage and their habitat was very limited due to the intensive use of humans. The fate of the North American whooping crane resulted in one of the earliest pieces of legislation designed to protect endangered species . Eleven out of fifteen species were already categorized as "threatened" by the IUCN in 1977 .

In the meantime, awareness for the protection of birds has also reached politics. Farmers tolerate the cranes as they in shock cause (by Saatfraß) only minor damage. Natural interventions such as in Extremadura in Spain, where the oak stocks that have provided shelter and food for the cranes for centuries have been cut down, are becoming rarer, at least in Europe, and crane protectors have renatured or moistened former resting and wintering areas.

The International Crane Foundation , which is based in the USA , and the European European Crane Working Group are among the organizations that have dedicated themselves particularly to the protection of the crane .


Web links

Commons : Gruidae-Kraniche  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Kraniche  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ John Maguire: On patrol protecting the first crane egg in 400 years. BBC News, May 21, 2013, accessed May 27, 2013 .
  2. ^ Potapov & Fling, 1989, p. 221
  3. ^ Potapov & Fling, 1989, p. 249
  4. Matthiessen, p. 273 to p. 275
  5. ^ GW Archibald: Crane taxonomy as revealed by the unison call . In: JC Lewis & H. Masatomi: Crane research around the world , International Crane Foundation 1976
  6. ^ A b C. Krajewski: Phylogenetic relationships among cranes (Gruiformes: Gruidae) based on DNA hybridization . In: Auk 1989, No. 106, pp. 603-618
  7. ^ Carey Krajewski & James W. Fetzner: Phylogeny of cranes (Gruiformes: Gruidae) based on cytochrome-b DNA sequences . In: Auk 1994, No. 111 (2), pp. 351-365
  8. The fox and the crane ( Memento from January 5, 2008 in the Internet Archive )
  9. JW Goethe - poems - fox and crane
  10. The Wolf and the Crane ( Memento from September 29, 2007 in the Internet Archive )
  12. Finally, The Wise Crane
  13. ^ Friedrich Schiller Rousseau.
  14. ↑ In front of the gate (walkers of all kinds pull out.) ( Memento from January 2, 2007 in the Internet Archive )