Birds – European And Lilford’s Cranes

We may now turn to the Old World for the remaining members of the group, pausing first to consider two species that are quite closely allied to our Sandhill Crane, these being the so-called Common Crane (G. grus) of Europe, which retires in winter to northern and eastern Africa, and Lilford’s Crane (G. lilfordi) of eastern Siberia, which in winter migrates to the northwestern part of India. These were formerly regarded as constituting a single species, but their distinctness seems now to be generally accepted. Both are about thirty-six inches in length, the former being dark ashy gray, including the secondaries, while the latter is much paler, the general color being pearly gray, with the ornamental inner secondaries inclining to white. The Common Crane is said to have been abundant in the fen country of England down to the close of the seventeenth century, but it has long since been driven from there and only occurs as an occasional very rare straggler. Of its winter home in the Holy Land, Canon Tristram writes: “The Crane is well known, and is next to the Ostrich the largest bird in the country. It only visits the cultivated region at the time of its spring migration, when a few pairs remain in the marshy plains, as by the waters of Merom, but the greater number pass onward to the north. In the southern wilderness, south of Beersheba, it resorts in immense flocks to certain favorite roosting places during the winter. The clouds of these enormous birds, four feet high and many eight feet from wing to wing, quite darken the air toward evening.” A few may linger to rear their young in Italy, but the majority pass much farther north, some to the chill polar soils of Lapland, but the greater number to Russia, North Germany, and Scandinavia. A delightfully entertaining account of the breeding habits of this species in Lapland has been given by Wolley, from which we cannot forbear to quote a. few lines. After much searching he found the nest containing two eggs in a great swamp, and, although no Cranes were in sight, he concealed himself in a dense growth of bushes, and waited for the return of the owner of the nest. “It was already about midnight; at length, as I had my glass in the direction of the nest, which was three or four hundred yards off, I saw a tall gray figure emerging from amongst the birch trees, just beyond where I knew the nest must be; and there stood the Crane in all the beauty of nature, in the full side-light of an Arctic summer night. She came on with her graceful walk, her head up, and she raised it a little higher and turned her neck sidewise and upward as she passed round the tree on whose trunk I had hung the little roll of bark. She probably saw that the eggs were safe, and then she took a beat of twenty or thirty yards in the swamp, pecking and apparently feeding. At the end of this beat she stood still for a quarter of an hour, sometimes pecking and sometimes motionless. At length she turned and passed her nest a few paces in the opposite direction, but soon came in to it; she arranged with her beak the materials of the nest, or the eggs, or both; she dropped her breast gently forward, and, as soon as it touched, she let the rest of her body sink gradually down. And so she sits, with her neck up and her body full in my sight, sometimes preening her feathers, especially of the neck, sometimes lazily peeking about, and for a long time she sits, with her neck curved like a Swan’s, though principally in the upper part. Now she turns her head backward, puts her beak under the wing, and so she seems fairly to go to sleep.”

The other species (G. lilfordi) assembles in the same immense flocks in its Indian winter home, and spends the summer in or close to the Arctic Circle. The nests are constructed on the ground in marshy, swampy places, and the eggs, two in number, are four inches long by two and five eighths inches broad, and pale greenish olive-brown blotched and spotted with darker shades of the same. The remaining closely allied forms are the White-headed Crane (G. monachus) of eastern Siberia, southern Japan, and China, which has the sides of the neck, throat, and entire sides of the face pure white; the Black-necked Crane (G. nigricollis) of Koko-nor, characterized by the smoky black head and neck, and the Japanese Crane (G. japonensis), an immense bird fifty inches long and almost pure white throughout, which ranges in summer over eastern Siberia, Korea, and Japan, and winters in China.