crane, large wading bird found in marshes in the Northern Hemisphere and in Africa. Although sometimes confused with herons, cranes are more closely related to rails and limpkins. Cranes are known for their loud trumpeting call that can be heard for miles and for the rhythmic, jumping dances both males and females perform during mating season. They eat small animals, grain, and other vegetable matter. The North American whooping crane, a white bird almost 5 ft (1.5 m) tall, was nearly extinct by the 1940s. Many have since been raised in captivity and new populations in the wild have been fostered, although the bird is still endangered. Most migratory whooping cranes winter at Aransas Bay, Tex. The sandhill crane, about 4 ft (1.2 m) tall with gray plumage, is becoming rare; it winters west of the Mississippi River. The crowned crane of Africa has bright, contrasting colors. At the beginning of the 21st cent. there were 15 species of crane in the world, 11 of them endangered. Cranes are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Gruiformes, family Gruidae.
See P. Matthiesen, The Birds of Heaven: Travels With Cranes (2001).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.