Difference Between Cranes and Herons

Birds are considered to be the most free-spirited and self-subsistent creations of nature. They are warm-blooded animals belonging to the class of ‘Aves’ and are vertebrates.


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Their size ranges from 2 cm hummingbirds to 2750 cm ostriches.

We often come across very closely related bird species that are quite similar in appearance and can fail to identify the minute differences that exist between them at the very first glance. One such example is that of a crane and a heron.

These two birds look astonishingly similar on the outside but have a highly disparate flying style, breeding pattern, nesting, and habitat.

Key Takeaways

  1. Cranes are large, long-legged birds with long necks and straight bills, usually found in wetlands and grasslands; herons are medium-to-large wading birds with long necks and dagger-like bills, typically found near water bodies.
  2. Cranes have a distinctive trumpeting call and are known for their elaborate courtship dances; herons have a more subdued call and are known for their stealthy hunting behaviour.
  3. Cranes are migratory birds with a wider global distribution; herons are generally non-migratory and are found in a more limited range of habitats.

Cranes vs Herons

The difference between cranes and herons is that cranes belong to the family Gruidae and fly with their neck outstretched whereas herons belong to the family Ardeidae and fly with their neck curved into an ‘S’ shape and pulled backward.

Cranes vs Herons

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Comparison Table

Parameter of ComparisonCranesHerons
FamilyCranes belong to the family GruidaeHerons belong to the family Ardeidae
AppearanceCranes are large-sized, have a thinner beak, and fly with their neck stretched out. They exist in fewer color combinationsHerons are medium-sized birds with a thicker beak than cranes and fly with an ‘S’ shaped kink in their necks. They exist in more number of color combinations
CallCranes have a well – developed vocal system with different calls for different purposesHerons have a croaking call.
Breeding patternCranes lay 1 – 2 eggs at a time and have a sub – adult period of 3 to 8 yearsHerons lay 3 to 7 eggs at a time and have a very short breeding time of 1 – 2 years.
DietCranes are omnivores and their diet can range from small rodents and insects to berries and grass.Herons are carnivores and eat aquatic animals like fish, reptiles, and insects found in or near water.
HabitatCranes nest in wetlands on the ground and have a solitary nesting pattern. They do not perch on treesHerons perch on trees, have a colonial nesting pattern, and have their habitat in low – laying wetlands
Feeding patternThe cranes go to grasslands or deserts for feeding purposes and the parent cranes take their chicks to the feeding grounds.The herons consume aquatic food found in or near water and the parent herons bring food to their chicks.
Worldwide distributionThey are found in all continents except for South America and AntarcticaThey are found in all continents except for Antarctica
ThreatsThese come under the ‘threatened’ species due to human activitiesThese are not listed in the endangered species.

What are Cranes?

Cranes are large, high – necked, wading birds of the family Gruidae and order Gruiformes, and exist in three genera subdivided into a total of 15 species. They can be found on all continents except for Antarctica and South America.

They occupy a position among the tallest flying birds across the globe.

During their flight, their long neck is outstretched and legs trail out behind. They are omnivorous and their diet primarily consists of rodents, fish, and other small animals along with grains, berries, and grass shoots.

The parent cranes take their chicks to the feeding grounds in dry areas.

Most species of cranes nest in wetlands and sometimes in grasslands, or even deserts. Cranes are monogamous and lay 1 – 2 eggs at a time.

They have a large dialect consisting of specialized calls for maintaining eye contact with their parents, food – begging calls, alarm calls, flight intention calls, and duet calls.

Different varieties of crane include Sandhill crane, Crowned crane, Wattled crane, Brogla, and Demoiselle crane. Today, most crane species are profoundly a victim of human activities, based on which they are classified as ‘threatened’, and if their plight is worsened, they may as well become a part of the ‘critically endangered’ species.


What are Herons?

Herons are long-legged wading birds with soft plumage and large wings belonging to the family Ardeidae and have a long neck that can be curved into an ‘S’ shape. They are found on all continents except for Antarctica.

These birds are partially migratory, mainly found in the lowlands, and are consorted with water and wetlands. They are carnivorous and feed on various live aquatic animals like fish, reptiles, amphibians, and aquatic insects.

The parent herons bring food to the baby chicks, unlike the cranes.

Their nesting pattern is colonial and they mainly perch on trees. They have a croaking call and lay 3 – 7 eggs at a time.

Various types of herons include Grey heron, Agami heron, Boat-billed heron, Pacific Reef heron, and Goliath heron.

gray bird flying over the sea

Major Differences Between Crane and Heron

  1. Cranes and herons belong to two different families, Gruidae and Ardeidae respectively.
  2. Cranes are one of the largest flying birds whereas herons are medium-sized.
  3. Cranes fly with an outstretched neck while herons fly with an ‘S’ shaped, curved neck.
  4.  Cranes have a thinner beak and exist in fewer color combinations as compared to herons.
  5. Cranes have a very highly developed vocal system and large vocabulary due to which they can produce different sounds for different purposes, whereas herons have a croaking voice.
  6. Cranes lay 1 – 2 eggs at a time and take 3 to 8 years for breeding. On the other hand, herons lay 3 to 7 eggs at a time and take just 1 – 2 years to breed.
  7. Cranes are omnivorous and consume small animals as well as berries or grasses, but herons are carnivores and majorly feed on aquatic animals.
  8. Cranes have a solitary nesting pattern and do not perch on trees in contradiction to herons, who have a colonial nesting pattern and perch on trees.
  9. Cranes take their chicks to the feeding grounds whereas herons bring food for their chicks.
  10. Cranes are not found in South America, unlike herons that are present there.
  11. Cranes are listed as threatened species but herons are not endangered.
Difference Between Cranes and Herons
  1. https://fsuornithology.wordpress.com/tag/ornithology/
  2. https://books.google.co.in/books?hl=en&lr=&id=ldzxpcqepksC&oi=fnd&pg=PT6&dq=+herons&ots=lTqSYwNnUH&sig=tAvIveXTxEKikHHNRboRpKMYdBk&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=herons&f=false
  3. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1017&context=bioscicranes
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