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Red-crowned Crane (Grus japonensis) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Red-crowned Crane (Grus japonensis)

Physical Characteristics

Body measurements

Attribute Measurement
Weight 7-10 kg (15-22 lb)
Height 158 cm (5 ft)
Wing Length 220-250 cm (7-8 ft)

General Appearance

  • A mostly white, large terrestrial wading bird, bare forehead and crown, exposing red skin
  • Blackish neck with white nape
  • Eyes black, legs slate to gray-black, bill greenish-yellow

Sexual Dimorphism

  • Males only slightly larger than females

Plumage and Molting

  • Only three cranes in world are mostly white; they are also very endangered (Britton & Hayashida 1981)
    • Siberian white crane
    • Whooping crane
    • Red-crowned crane
  • Primary feathers white; all other cranes' primary feathers are black or dark gray (Archibald & Meine 1996)
    • Gray primaries are structurally stronger
    • Red-crowned cranes' white primaries are structurally weaker
    • Perhaps originally all populations were non-migratory, with no need for strong flight feathers
  • Black secondary and tertiary feathers
  • Hatchlings reddish brown
  • Juveniles white, cinnamon brown, gray
  • White primaries appear in juvenile's 2nd year
  • Molt annually (Neufeldt 1981)
  • All flight feathers fall out simultaneously every 2 years; cranes are temporarily flightless (Neufeldt 1981)

Other Physical and Physiological Characteristics

Cranes differ in following ways from storks, herons, egrets:

  • Proportionally longer legs and necks held straighter than herons
  • Proportionally larger bodies than egrets
  • Smaller bill, longer legs, lighter bodies than storks 
  • Storks build nests in trees, on houses; egrets and herons in trees and bushes, cranes on ground

Fading Feathers

Red crowned Crane young


Red crowned Crane adult


Red-crowned Cranes turn from a cinnamon brown color to white as adults. They molt their feathers each year.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Archibald & Meine (1996)
Britton & Hayashida (1981)
International Crane Foundation (2011)
Neufeldt (1981)

SDZWA Library Links