Crane, a family of large wading birds. Cranes in flight resemble herons, except that cranes fly with their necks outstretched, while herons curve their necks into an S shape. The sandhill crane nests in an area ranging from northeastern Canada to Nebraska and the Gulf states; it winters in central Mexico and Cuba. It is nearly four feet (1.2 m) tall. Its feathers are a pale brownish gray. The head above the eyes is reddish, and is bare except for a few black, hairlike feathers. The sandhill crane is endangered because the draining of marshes in the United States has reduced its nesting grounds.

CranesCranes are large wading birds.

The whooping crane, a white bird that stands about five feet (1.5 m) high, is endangered. Around 1870, its nesting grounds on the North American prairies were steadily turned into farmland and the bird was often hunted for food and sport. The whooping crane gets its name from its loud, trumpeting call. Whooping cranes nest in northwestern North America and winter on the Gulf coast of Texas.

The whooping craneThe whooping crane gets its name from its loud, trumpeting call.

Many kinds of cranes are found in the Eastern Hemisphere. Among these are the common crane; the demoiselle crane, with eyes having bright red irises; the Stanley crane, with long, trailing feathers; the West African and South African crowned cranes; and the wattled crane.

Cranes eat frogs, mice, snakes, insects, grain, and various kinds of marsh plants. Their nests are made of reeds and sedges. The female lays two eggs that are olive or brown with darker spots. Male and female sandhill cranes perform an elaborate courtship dance during the mating season. Cranes are protected by conservation laws.

Cranes make up the family Gruidae. The sandhill crane is Grus canadensis; the whooping crane, G. americana. The common crane is G. grus; the demoiselle crane, Anthropoides virgo; the Stanley crane, A. paradisea; the West African crowned crane, Balearica pavonina; the South African crowned crane, B. regulorum; the wattled crane, Bugeranus carunculatus.