The Common Crane is a large, stately bird and a medium-sized crane. It is 100-130 cm (40-52 in) tall with a 180-240 cm (71-96 in) wingspan. The body weight can range from 3 to 6.1 kg (6.6 to 13.4 lb), with the nominate subspecies averaging around 5.4 kg (12 lb) and the eastern subspecies (G. g. lilfordi) averaging 4.6 kg (10 lb). Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 50.7-60.8 cm (20.0-23.9 in) long, the tarsus is 20.1-25.2 cm (7.9-9.9 in) and the exposed culmen is 9.5-11.6 cm (3.7-4.6 in). This species is slate-grey overall. The forehead and lores are blackish with a bare red crown and a white streak extending from behind the eyes to the upper back. The overall colour is darkest on the back and rump and palest on the breast and wings. The primaries, the tips of secondaries, the alula, the tip of the tail, and the edges of upper tail coverts are all black and the greater coverts droop into explosive plumes. This combination of colouration ultimately distinguishes it from similar species in Asia, like the Hooded and Black-necked Cranes. The juvenile has yellowish-brown tips to its body feathers and lacks the drooping wing feathers and the bright neck pattern of the adult, and has a fully feathered crown. Every two years, before migration, the adult Common Crane undergoes a complete moult, remaining flightless for six weeks, until the new feathers grow.
Habitat and Distribution
This species is found in the northern parts of Europe and Asia. Formerly the species was spread as far west as Ireland, but about 200 years ago, it became extinct there. However, it has since started to return to Ireland naturally and there are now plans to help it return to Ireland on a greater scale. The Common Crane is an uncommon breeder in southern Europe, smaller numbers breeding in Greece, Yugoslavia, Romania, Denmark and Germany. Larger breeding populations can found in Scandinavia, especially Finland and Sweden. The heart of the breeding population for the species is in Russia, however, where possibly up to 100,000 cranes of this species can be found seasonally. In Russia, it is distributed as a breeder from the Ukraine region to the Chukchi Peninsula. The breeding population extends as far south as Manchuria but almost the entire Asian breeding population is restricted to Russia. The species is a long distance migrant predominantly wintering in northern Africa. Autumn migration is from August to October and spring migration is in March through May. In Europe, the Common Crane predominantly breeds in boreal and taiga forest and mixed forests, from an elevation of sea-level to 2,200 m (7,200 ft). In Northern climes, treeless moors, on bogs, or on dwarf heather habitats, usually where small lakes or pools are also found. In Sweden, breeders are usually found in small, swampy openings amongst pine forests while, in Germany, marshy wetlands are used. Breeding habitat used in Russia are similar, though they can be found nesting in less likely habitat such as steppe and even semi-desert, so long as water is near. Primarily, the largest number of Common Cranes are found breeding in wooded swamps, bogs and wetlands and seem to require quiet, peaceful environs with minimal human interference. They occur at low density as breeders even where common, typically ranging from 1 to 5 pairs per 100 km2 (39 sq mi). While winter, this species moves to flooded areas, shallow sheltered bays, and swampy meadows. During the flightless moulting period there is a need for shallow waters or high reed cover for concealment. Later, after the migration period, the birds winter regularly in open country, often on cultivated lands and sometimes also in savanna-like areas, for example on the Iberian Peninsula.
The Common Crane is omnivorous, as are all cranes. It largely eats plant matter, including roots, rhizomes, tubers, stems, leaves, fruits and seeds. They also commonly eat, as available, pond-weeds, heath berries, peas, potatoes, olives, acorns, cedarnuts and pods of peanuts. Notably amongst the berries consumed, the cranberry, is possibly named after the species.
This species usually lays eggs in May, though seldom will do so earlier or later. Like most cranes, this species displays indefinite monogamous pair bonds. In common with Sandhill Cranes (and no other crane species), Common Cranes `paint` their bodies with mud or decaying vegetation, apparently in order to blend into their nesting environment. The clutch of the Common Crane usually contains two eggs, with seldom one laid and, even more rarely, 3 or 4. If a clutch is lost early in incubation, the cranes may be able to lay another one within a couple of weeks. The incubation period is around 30 days and is done primarily by the female but occasionally by both sexes. If humans approach the nest both parents may engage in a distraction display but known ground predators (including domestic dogs) are physically attacked almost immediately.
Calls and Songs
It has a loud trumpeting call, given in flight and display. The call is piercing and can be heard from a considerable distance. It has a dancing display, leaping with wings uplifted, described in detail below.