1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Crane

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CRANE (in Dutch, Kraan; O. Ger. Kraen; cognate, as also the Lat. grus, and consequently the Fr. grue and Span. grulla, with the Gr. γέρανος), the Grus communis or G. cinerea of ornithologists, one of the largest wading-birds, and formerly a native of England, where William Turner, in 1544, said that he had very often seen its young (“earum pipiones saepissime vidi”). Notwithstanding the protection afforded it by sundry acts of parliament, it has long since ceased from breeding in England. Sir T. Browne (ob. 1682) speaks of it as being found in the open parts of Norfolk in winter. In Ray’s time it was only known as occurring at the same season in large flocks in the fens of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire; and though mention is made of cranes’ eggs and young in the fen-laws passed at a court held at Revesby in 1780, this was most likely but the formal repetition of an older edict; for in 1768 Pennant wrote that after the strictest inquiry he found the inhabitants of those counties to be wholly unacquainted with the bird. The crane, however, no doubt then appeared in Britain, as it does now, at uncertain intervals and in unwonted places, having strayed from the migrating bands whose movements have been remarked from almost the earliest ages. Indeed, the crane’s aerial journeys are of a very extended kind; and on its way from beyond the borders of the Tropic of Cancer to within the Arctic Circle, or on the return voyage, its flocks may be descried passing overhead at a marvellous height, or halting for rest and refreshment on the wide meadows that border some great river, while the seeming order with which its ranks are marshalled during flight has long attracted attention. The crane takes up its winter quarters under the burning sun of Central Africa and India, but early in spring returns northward. Not a few examples reach the chill polar soils of Lapland and Siberia, but some tarry in the south of Europe and breed in Spain, and, it is supposed, in Turkey. The greater number, however, occupy the intermediate zone and pass the summer in Russia, north Germany, and Scandinavia. Soon after their arrival in these countries the flocks break up into pairs, whose nuptial ceremonies are accompanied by loud and frequent trumpetings, and the respective breeding-places of each are chosen.

The nest is formed with little art on the ground in large open marshes, where the herbage is not very high—a tolerably dry spot being selected and used apparently year after year. Here the eggs, which are of a rich brown colour with dark spots, and always two in number, are laid. The young are able to run soon after they are hatched, and are at first clothed with tawny down. In the course of the summer they assume nearly the same grey plumage that their parents wear, except that the elongated plumes, which in the adults form a graceful covering of the hinder parts of the body, are comparatively undeveloped, and the clear black, white and red (the last being due to a patch of papillose skin of that colour) of the head and neck are as yet indistinct. During this time they keep in the marshes, but as autumn approaches the different families unite by the rivers and lakes, and ultimately form the enormous bands which after much more trumpeting set out on their southward journey.

The crane’s power of uttering its sonorous and peculiar trumpet-like notes is commonly ascribed to the formation of its trachea, which on quitting the lower end of the neck passes backward between the branches of the furcula and is received into a hollow space formed by the bony walls of the carina or keel of the sternum. Herein it makes three turns, and then runs upwards and backwards to the lungs. The apparatus on the whole much resembles that found in the whooping swans (Cygnus musicus, C. buccinator and others), though differing in some not unimportant details; but at the same time somewhat similar convolutions of the trachea occur in other birds which do not possess, so far as is known, the faculty of trumpeting. The crane emits its notes both during flight and while on the ground. In the latter case the neck and bill are uplifted and the mouth kept open during the utterance of the blast, which may be often heard from birds in confinement, especially at the beginning of the year.

As usually happens in similar cases, the name of the once familiar British species is now used in a general sense, and applied to all others which are allied to it. Though by former systematists placed near or even among the herons, there is no doubt that the cranes have only a superficial resemblance and no real affinity to the Ardeidae. In fact the Gruidae form a somewhat isolated group. Huxley included them together with the Rallidae in his Geranomorphae; but a more extended view of their various characters would probably assign them rather as relatives of the Bustards—not that it must be thought that the two families have not been for a very long time distinct. Grus, indeed, is a very ancient form, its remains appearing in the Miocene of France and Greece, as well as in the Pliocene and Post-pliocene of North America. In France, too, during the “Reindeer Period” there existed a huge species—the G. primigenia of Alphonse Milne-Edwards—which has doubtless been long extinct. At the present time cranes inhabit all the great zoogeographical regions of the earth, except the Neotropical, and some sixteen or seventeen species are discriminated. In Europe, besides the G. communis already mentioned, the Numidian or demoiselle-crane (G. virgo) is distinguished from every other by its long white ear-tufts. This bird is also widely distributed throughout Asia and Africa, and is said to have occurred in Orkney as a straggler. The eastern part of the Palaearctic Region is inhabited by four other species that do not frequent Europe (G. antigone, G. japonensis, G. monachus, and G. leucogeranus), of which the last is perhaps the finest of the family, with nearly the whole plumage of a snowy white. The Indian Region, besides being visited in winter by four of the species already named, has two that are peculiar to it (G. torquata and G. indica, both commonly confounded under the name of G. antigone). The Australian Region possesses a large species known to the colonists as the “native companion” (G. australis), while the Nearctic is tenanted by three species (G. americana, G. canadensis and G. fraterculus), to say nothing of the possibility of a fourth (G. schlegeli), a little-known and somewhat obscure bird, finding its habitat here. In the Ethiopian Region are two species (G. paradisea and G. carunculata), which do not occur out of Africa, as well as three others forming the group known as “crowned cranes”—differing much from other members of the family, and justifiably placed in a separate genus, Balearica. One of these (B. pavonina) inhabits northern and western Africa, while another (B. regulorum) is confined to the eastern and southern parts of that continent. The third (B. ceciliae), from the White Nile, has been described by Dr P. Chalmers Mitchell (P.Z.S., 1904).

With regard to the literature of this species, a paper “On the Breeding of the Crane in Lapland” (Ibis, 1859, p. 191), by John Wolley, is one of the most pleasing contributions to natural history ever written, and an admirably succinct account of all the different species was communicated by Blyth to The Field in 1873 (vol. xl. p. 631, vol. xli. pp. 7, 61, 136, 189, 248, 384, 408, 418). A beautiful picture representing a flock of cranes resting by the Rhine during one of their annual migrations is to be found in Wolf’s Zoological Sketches. (A. N.)