Many novice bird enthusiasts confuse large herons (Family Ardeidae) with cranes (Family Gruidae). Much like herons, cranes belong to a clade of long-legged and long-necked birds whose range often overlap. In contrast to the 64 extant heron species, there are only 15 distinct types of crane, two of which can be found in North America*. Unlike the herons, most crane species are threatened due to habitat loss throughout their migratory range. The large body, sculpted physique and intricate mating behavior has inspired art and poetry wherever cranes are found. Flying with outstretched neck and legs, most crane species migrate in large migratory flocks that congregate in evening and winter roosting sites. When attempting to distinguish a crane from a heron, look at the neck, legs and behavior and you will never get this wrong again.
(*Sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) and whooping cranes (Grus americana) can be found in North America. The sandhill crane population is relatively stable across its range, while the whooping crane population is near extinct with a total of 599 captive and wild individuals. Population based on data from the International Crane Foundation - https://www.savingcranes.org/whooping-crane.html)
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