Herons and cranes are two species of waterfowl. Most people have probably heard one from the other. It’s easy to think that they are similar when you hear about both, especially since they are physically similar: grayish in color, large bodies, long legs, and long necks. The largest crane is the 69 “long, compared to the largest species of herons, the goliath heron, at 60”. The symbols of both birds represent balance.
So how do you tell them apart? First, they belong to different taxonomic orders, so one bird is not really related to another. They also look different in flight and there are other physical differences as well. Let’s take a look at all of their unique features below!
Heron and Crane Comparison
|Head||Naked and red||Fully fledged|
|Body||Large, with long legs and a long neck||Large, with long legs and a long neck|
|The size||Very big||Medium to large|
|Habitat||Most of the world, mostly wetlands and grasslands||All continents except Antarctica, most habitats near water and especially lowlands|
|Taxonomy||Squad Gruiformes, Family Gruidae, 15 types||Detachment Pelecaniformes, Family Ardeidae, 72 types|
|Flight||Elongated neck||Curved neck|
|Call||Loud, rattling horn||Croak|
|Nest||On the ground, alone||Trees, colonial|
|Feeding||Take chickens to eat||Serve food to the chickens|
|Maturity age||3-8 years old||1-2 years|
|Can you sit in trees?||No||Yes|
8 key differences between a heron and a crane
Heron vs. Crane: Head
The main feature of their bodies is that different heads of cranes and herons should pop out at you. The head of the crane is naked and red in color due to the absence of feathers, and the head of the heron is completely covered with feathers.
Heron vs Crane: Body
There are both very small and very large species of cranes and herons. Since the crane is a very large bird and the heron is medium to large, differences in length, height, weight and wingspan are inevitable, even among species of the same size. The crane is very large and the heron is a medium to large bird. Typically, however, the crane is taller, with a shorter neck and beak. Even the smallest of the two species are of different sizes: the pygmy bittern (heron) is 10 to 12 inches long, and the Demoiselle crane is 35 inches. In terms of wingspan, American cranes are 6 feet tall and Goliath herons are 6 to 7 feet tall.
Heron vs. Crane: Neck During Flight
Another big difference you can see is how they look when flying. The crane in flight stretches its neck, and the heron curves its neck.
Heron vs. Crane: Diet and Feeding
When you watch birds near a large body of water, you may catch one of these birds eating. If so, this can be a great way to tell them apart. Cranes are omnivorous, therefore they eat both animals and plants from land and water. On the other hand, herons are purely carnivorous and eat aquatic animals. Another difference is how they feed their chicks: the crane brings the chicks to the food, and the heron gives the food to the chicks, as many other birds do.
Heron vs. Crane: Taxonomy
Both of these waterfowl belong to the Aves class, which includes all birds. After that, they don’t look alike at all. The crane belongs to the order Gruiformes, which means “like a crane”, and to the family Gruidae, which means “crane”, with 15 species. The heron belongs to the order Pelecaniformes, which means “pelican-like”, and the family Ardeidae, with 72 views.
Heron vs Crane: Call
Hearing any of these bird calls, you can easily tell which one is which. The crane makes a rumbling, loud sound, and the heron croaks.
Heron vs. Crane: Helper
The mating behavior of these birds is also very different. The crane is monogamous and mates for life (if possible), and the heron changes spouses.
Heron vs. Crane: Nest and Group Behavior
Where these birds keep their nests and how they operate in society are also important features to distinguish between them. The crane builds a nest on the ground, cannot sit on trees and lives alone with its partner, while the heron builds a nest in trees, often sits on trees and lives in a colony.
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