Cranes are large omnivorous birds that are known to perform elaborate mating dances and vocalizations. Many species exist, with large size differences between populations. With long legs and a large torso, these birds can often stand more than four or five feet tall, with wingspans that reach nearly nine feet wide. We’ve organized the 10 largest crane species in the world as ranked by their height; take a look!
Notes on measurements: The Crane can be measured in numerous ways, but we’ve settled one the following three criteria: height, wingspan, and weight. Since these are tall birds, height was used in lieu of length.
10. White-naped Crane (Antigone vipio)
- Height: 130 cm (up to ~4.3 ft. tall)
- Wingspan: 200-210 cm (up to ~6.9 ft. wide)
- Weight: up to 12 lbs.
This large crane is found in parts of Mongolia, China, South Korea, Siberian Russia, and Kazakhstan. Like all cranes, they are omnivorous, feeding on a variety of insects, seeds, roots, plants, and small animals. Due to a combination of overhunting and habitat loss, there are only about 5,000 white-naped cranes left in the wild. The IUCN lists the species as vulnerable.
The white-naped crane is the only crane with a dark gray and white striped neck. There isn’t much difference in size and appearance between males and females; however, in some breeding pairs, the male appears slightly larger than the female. Typical of many cranes, the white-naped participates in a complicated and unique courtship display, with elaborate vocalization and movement.
9. Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis)
- Height: 130 cm (up to ~4.3 ft. tall)
- Wingspan: 235 cm (up to ~7.7 ft. wide)
- Weight: ~12 lbs.
Black-necked cranes are the world’s only alpine cranes and spend their summers on the slopes of the Himalaya mountain range at elevations up to 16,000 feet above sea level. During the winter, the cranes retreat to the low valleys of Bhutan and southern China to escape the cold. Due to the difficulty of accessing the terrain they love to frequent, Black-necked cranes were the last crane species to be described by ornithologists (in 1870). They are whitish-gray in appearance, with a black head, red crown patch, black upper legs and neck, and a small white patch below and behind the eye.
The black-necked crane is currently listed as near-threatened by the IUCN but enjoys federal protections from Bhutan, China, and India. They are also celebrated at a festival in Bhutan and are the state bird of the Ladakh territory in India. Although some crane mortalities have been linked to the dogs of some herders, in general, the people living in the crane’s habitat have a good deal of respect for the bird and don’t hunt or poach it. Habitat loss is a prime concern for the species due to shifting agricultural practices and the sensitivity of alpine wetland ecosystems.
8. Common Crane (Grus grus)
- Height: 100-130 cm (up to ~4.3 ft. tall)
- Wingspan: 180-240 cm (up to ~7.9 ft. wide)
- Weight: ~6.5-13.4 lbs.
Similar in size to the white-naped but a little heavier and with a wider wingspan, the common crane (also called the Eurasian crane) is a large and stately bird. Due to its long-distance migratory patterns, the common crane can be seen in northern and eastern Africa, Mesopotamia, India, China, Turkey, northeastern Europe, and parts of Scandinavia. The common crane is one of only four crane species to be listed as least concern by the IUCN.
The common crane prefers bogs, moors, and wetlands for its breeding grounds and is monogamous once it finds a mate. Couples may mate several years in a row but will always perform the same courtship rituals. The common crane usually lays two eggs, though instances of one or as many as four have been observed. The coloration on the crane is an overall gray, with a black chin, throat, and neck. There is a red spot on the crane’s head, which is actually a featherless patch, meaning the red is its skin. Broad white stripes also extend from behind the eyes down the sides of the neck.
7. Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis)
- Height: 80-136 cm (up to ~4.6 ft. tall)
- Wingspan: 165-230 cm (up to ~7.5 ft. wide)
- Weight: ~9-14.8 lbs.
The Sandhill crane is one of the largest crane species in North America, with a habitat range extending into extreme northeastern Siberia as well. The common name is derived from Nebraska’s Sandhill region, which the birds frequent. Currently, the sandhill crane is listed as least concern by the IUCN, with an estimated global population of over 500,000 members.
Although stable overall, there are differences in conservation status between the six subspecies. For example, the Cuban sandhill crane and the Mississippi sandhill crane are endangered, while the lesser sandhill crane contains more than 400,000 members. In Wisconsin, there is currently a push to establish a sandhill crane hunting season because of the seasonal damage they cause to local agriculture.
Like other crane species, the sandhill has a red bald patch above its eye, and a long-tapered beak. The feathers on mature adults are majority gray with white patches underneath the red crown. Sandhill cranes are mostly herbivorous and highly social creatures, often forming groups that roost and feed together. When breeding, the sandhill crane usually lays a clutch of one-three eggs.
6. Brolga Crane (Antigone rubicunda)
- Height: 100-140 cm (up to ~4.6 ft. tall)
- Wingspan: 170-240 cm (up to ~7.9 ft. wide)
- Weight: 12.5-19.2 lbs.
The Brolga, or Australian crane, is one of the largest crane species in Oceania, with breeding populations in north and eastern Australia and New Guinea. It was originally thought to resemble herons and placed in the same genus, but genetic studies have proven that its most similar to the white-naped crane. There are more than 100,000 brolgas in the wild, enough to grant the species a conservation status of least concern by the IUCN.
Adults have a gray-green skin-covered crown as well as a red, featherless area behind their eyes that surrounds a small patch of gray feathers by the ears. The general body plumage is gray. The bird is also heavy, averaging nearly 15 lbs. with extremes on either end.
In their range, Brolgas are relatively widespread and abundant. They also have a complicated mating ritual involving tossing grass up and catching it in its beak, dancing, strutting, employing various vocalizations, and extending its neck and wings in choreographed movements. Brolgas, like many cranes, rely on wetlands to feed and nest. Wetlands are often poorly understood in the public sphere and subject to dredging for urban development or agriculture; consequently, habitat loss is the primary obstacle for long-term species success.
5. Siberian Crane (Leucogeranus leucogeranus)
- Height: 140 cm (up to ~4.6 ft. tall)
- Wingspan: 210-260 cm (up to ~8.5 ft. wide)
- Weight: 11-19 lbs.
Also called the snow crane, the Siberian crane is a large bird with unique coloration. The forehead, face, and sides of the head are covered in red skin, the majority of the plumage is white, the wingtips are black, and the legs are pinkish-red. The Siberian crane is critically endangered, according to the IUCN, with an estimated total population of under 3,200 members.
The remaining members of the species breed in northern Siberia in two disjointed areas and winter in either Poyang Lake in China, Bharatpur India, or northern Iran. Like all cranes, it is an omnivore that prefers to breed in wetlands. The serrated beak is unique among the Siberian cranes and allows it to better grip slippery prey.
While habitat loss and hunting long migratory routes have pushed the species close to the brink, it is still commonly sighted at Poyang Lake. Any significant long-term environmental damage related to the crane’s winter habitat could accelerate the decline of the Siberian crane, so its future is far from certain. The construction of the Three Gorges Dam (near Poyang Lake) has been cited as a potential habitat disruptor.
4. Whooping Crane (Grus americana)
- Height: ~124-160 cm (up to ~5.25 ft. tall)
- Wingspan: 200-230 cm (up to ~7.5 ft. wide)
- Weight: ~10-19 lbs.
The whooping crane edges out the sandhill crane for the title of the tallest crane in North America by a handful of cm. It is recognized by its “whooping” vocalizations and, like many other crane species, is a migratory bird. By 1941, only 21 wild and two captive cranes were left on earth due to overhunting and habitat loss. The crane has been the beneficiary of many conservation efforts, which have led to a limited recovery, with roughly 800 whooping cranes alive today. The IUCN lists the entire whooping crane population as endangered.
The adult whooping crane has a striking white body plumage, a featherless red crown, a long-tapered beak, and black-tipped wings, which are visible during flight. The list of animals that consider whooping cranes and their eggs food is long and includes the American black bear, wolverines, gray wolves, cougars, red foxes, Canada lynx, bald eagles, common ravens, and bobcats. Although there are still less than 1,000 whooping cranes left in the world, the story of staving off their extinction has become one of the more well-known North American conservation successes, alongside the wolves of Yellowstone and the Bald Eagle.
Scientists have managed to catch and mark some cranes, leading to novel discoveries in how they live their lives. One of the more interesting discoveries was that, unlike many other cranes, a sizable fraction of the whooping crane population switches mates year over year. Since they are so rare, instances of illegal poaching have been met with fierce criticism, thousands of dollars of fines, and restrictions on gun ownership. Hopefully, with the continuation of robust conservation efforts, the whooping crane will continue its slow rebound from the brink of extinction.
3. Red-crowned Crane (Grus japonensis)
- Height: 150-158 cm (up to ~5.2 ft. tall)
- Wingspan: 220-250 cm (up to ~8.2 ft. wide)
- Weight: 11-23 lbs.
The red-crowned crane (also known as the Manchurian crane or Japanese crane) takes the number three spot for largest crane in the world. Despite ceding the number one and two spots to taller birds, the red-crowned is often thought of as the heaviest of all cranes. In parts of its east Asian habitat range, the crane is considered a symbol of good luck, fidelity, and longevity. According to the IUCN, the crane is listed as endangered.
Adult red-crowned cranes are named for the distinctive red patch on their heads—a trait shared with multiple cranes on this list. The body plumage is largely white, like the whooping crane, but differs because of the black coloration along the neck and hindquarters. The throat and lower face are black, a white-feathered band covers the middle third of the face, and the upper part contains the red crown. The birds are omnivorous, and like so many other cranes, prefer wetlands to build nests, which contain one-two eggs. Populations have been rebounding in Japan and on some pacific islands, but the continental population is reportedly declining. Some red-crowned cranes in China migrate long distances, while others, like the population in Hokkaido, Japan, travel less than one hundred miles between their summer and winter sites.
The red-crowned crane is known for its complicated mating ritual, although they have been observed dancing in duets well outside of breeding time. The social implications of their dances are multi-faceted, but scientists generally agree that the dancing is intended to strengthen bonds between crane pairs and show excitement. Unlike the whooping crane, the red-crowned does not suffer direct predation in its wintering grounds but has experienced a dramatic loss of its preferred habitat, which translates to a noticeable decline in crane numbers.
2. Wattled Crane (Grus carunculata)
- Height: 150-175 cm (up to ~5.7 ft. tall)
- Wingspan: 1.7-2.4 m (up to ~7.9 ft. wide)
- Weight: ~14-20 lbs.
The wattled crane is the second-largest crane in the world and lives in sub-Saharan Africa. They have been spotted in at least 11 countries, but the largest population occurs in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. True to its name, the wattled crane has a wattle (a flap of skin like a turkey or rooster’s) that hangs below its beak. The IUCN currently lists the wattled crane as vulnerable.
Typical adult wattled cranes have a white-feathered neck and throat, an ashy-gray back and wings, a sleek gray feathered patch above the eye, black legs, and black feathers on their breast. The featherless skin below the eye and extending to the wattle is red in appearance and covered in small bumps. The wattles on these cranes can act as a mood indicator; when the crane is nervous, the wattle shrinks, and when it is excited, the wattle becomes elongated. Like all cranes, the destruction of wetlands is a prime concern for the species, especially as it relates to the Okavango Delta.
1. Sarus Crane (Antigone antigone)
- Height: ~180 cm (up to 5.9 ft. tall)
- Wingspan: 220-250 cm (up to 8.2 ft. wide)
- Weight: 15-17 lbs.
The largest crane species in the world is the Sarus crane. This massive non-migratory crane is found in parts of the Indian subcontinent, Australia, and Southeast Asia. Its coloration is unique among cranes because the red crown extends down a portion of the neck, making it larger than all of the others on this list. Currently, the IUCN lists the Sarus crane as vulnerable.
Aside from the red crown and upper neck, the Sarus crane sports large grey wings with black wingtips, a grey body, a grey ear patch of feathers within the red crown, and a greenish-gray bill. Despite a global population of only 15,000-20,000 members, the crane is considered sacred and isn’t usually hunted by humans. They do experience egg poaching from jungle crows, and in Australia, their young are susceptible to predation by wild dogs. In India specifically, the Sarus crane is widely revered. Legend says that the poet Valmiki cursed a hunter for killing a Sarus crane and was then inspired to write the Hindu epic Ramayana.
Summary of the 10 Largest Cranes in the World
|Name of Crane
|Height in Inches
|Wingspan in Inches
|Weight in Pounds
The photo featured at the top of this post is © vanchai/Shutterstock.com
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