Storks and cranes have a lot in common. They’re both large, long-legged birds with long necks and bills. They both live in flocks and mostly dwell in areas around shallow water bodies, due to which it can be difficult to be able to tell them apart. While these two birds may look similar, there are some key differences between storks and cranes—we’ll discuss them all in this article!
While storks and cranes are quite similar in appearance, the storks generally possess a larger head and neck and also have longer and thicker bills than the latter. On the other hand, the cranes possess medium-sized bills with a sharp edge. Moreover, storks are mute birds that communicate among themselves by clattering their bills, whereas cranes are loud and noisy birds that can produce a variety of sounds.
Eager to learn more? Stay with me till the end; I’ll tell you everything I’ve learned about storks, cranes, and how to distinguish between the two.
Stork vs. Crane: At a glance
Before we begin with the topic at hand, have you ever wondered why it is easy to get confused between cranes and storks? We’ll tell you.
Both storks and cranes are wading birds that dwell in similar habitats and share several physical features like long legs and a long, curving neck. However, it is also important to note that these birds belong to separate orders and families and aren’t closely related to each other at all.
Before we get to the difference table between these birds, let’s take a quick look at the list of all the stork and crane species of the world given below:
Stork species in the world:
- African Openbill Stork (Anastomus lamelligerus)
- Black Stork (Ciconia nigra)
- Maguari Stork (Ciconia maguari)
- Lesser Adjunct (Leptoptilos javanicus) – A vulnerable species
- Wood Stork (Mycteria americana)
- Yellow-Billed Stork (Mycteria ibis)
- Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus)
- Oriental Stork (Ciconia boyciana) – An endangered species
- Storm’s Stork (Ciconia stormi) – An endangered species
- White Stork (Ciconia ciconia)
- Woolly Stork (Ciconia episcopus) – A near-threatened species
- Asian Openbill Stork (Anastomus oscitans)
- Abdim’s Stork (Ciconia abdimii)
- Black-Necked Stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus) – A near-threatened species
- Saddle-Billed Stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis)
- Greater Adjutant (Leptoptilos dubius) – An endangered species
- Milky Stork (Mycteria cinerea) – An endangered species
- Painted Stork (Mycteria leucocephala) – A near-threatened species
- Jabiru Stork (Jabiru mycteria)
Crane species in the world:
- Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis)
- Sarus Crane (Antigone antigone) – A vulnerable species
- Brolga (Antigone rubicunda)
- White-naped Crane (Antigone vipio) – A vulnerable species
- Black-crowned Crane (Balearica pavonine) – A vulnerable species
- Grey-crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum) – An endangered species
- Whooping Crane (Grus americana) – An endangered species
- Wattled Crane (Grus carunculata) – A vulnerable species
- Common Crane (Grus grus)
- Red-crowned Crane (Grus japonensis) – An endangered species
- Blue Crane (Grus paradesia) – A vulnerable species
- Hooded Crane (Grus monacha) – An endangered species
- Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) – A near-threatened species
- Demoiselle Crane (Grus virgo)
- Siberian Crane (Leucogeranus leucogeranus) – A critically endangered species
Here’s the table that can give you a brief idea of how storks are different from cranes. Take a look:
|Number of species||19 species.||15 species.|
|Genus||· Ciconia· Mycteria· Jabiru· Anastomus· Leptoptilos· Ephippiorhynchus||· Balearica· Leucogeranus· Antigone· Grus|
|Length||Largest stork species: 152 centimeters (60 inches)Smallest stork species: 73 centimeters (29 inches)||Largest crane species: 160 centimeters (65 inches)Smallest crane species: 76 centimeters (30 inches)|
|Wingspan||Largest stork species: 3.7 meters (12 feet)Smallest stork species: 1.4 meters (4.5 feet)||Largest crane species: 2.5 meters (8.2 feet)Smallest crane species: 1.8 meters (5.9 feet)|
|Weight||Largest stork species: 9 kilograms (20 pounds)Smallest stork species: 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds)||Largest crane species: 8.4 kilograms (19 pounds)Smallest crane species: 2-3 kilograms (4.4-6.6 pounds)|
|Lifespan||Over 30 years in the wild.||Between 20-30 years in the wild.|
|Population status||8 out of 19 stork species are declared to be endangered by the IUCN.||11 out of 15 crane species in the world are declared to be endangered by the IUCN.|
Now that you have a rough idea of how to tell storks and cranes apart, we’re ready to delve deeper into their differentiation. Let’s begin by exploring their physical description in the next section.
Differences in appearance
Whenever you have to differentiate between two creatures, the first thought that crosses your mind is, “what do they look like?”
The same is true for storks and cranes. While these bird families do not have many significant differences as a collective group, there are certain grounds on which you can tell them apart.
Let’s learn about the main physical characteristics of these birds separately and then compare their differences.
What do storks look like?
Storks are large and heavy water birds with long legs, a long, S-shaped neck, and long bills. The bills of storks can show a lot of variation according to different species, as these have evolved to their individual diet.
Among the adult storks, you will notice that both sexes appear more or less the same. They are monochromatic and display dimorphism only in their size, with the males being roughly 15% larger than their female counterparts. In some stork species, the adult sexes also tend to have different iris colors.
Marabous are the largest stork species worldwide, whereas the Abdim’s Storks are the smallest.
What do cranes look like?
Often regarded as the tallest birds capable of flight in the entire world, cranes are long-legged birds that have a sharp bill and large, rounded wings.
These birds also possess an area of bare skin around their face which helps them communicate with one another. The two species that are an exception to it include Blue Cranes and Demoiselle Cranes.
In terms of sexual dimorphism, all crane species display negligible differences between the genders. Both sexes sport the same plumage; only the males are slightly larger in size than their female counterparts.
The Sarus Cranes are the largest crane species in the world, while the Demoiselle Cranes are the smallest.
Major differences in appearance
While storks and cranes might have various physical differences when you compare their particular species, as a family, there’s not much distinction to take note of. However, we’ll do our best to point out some differences that are common to most stork and crane species.
- While both storks and cranes are large birds, storks are the ones that have a larger head and neck than the latter. Cranes are quite small-headed; at times, their heads might even seem disproportionately small in relation to their bodies.
- The bills of storks are both longer and thicker than that of cranes. Cranes possess bills that are slightly shorter but have a sharp, pointed edge.
- As we’ve already discussed earlier, cranes have a bare patch of skin on their face that is used for communication. Storks lack any such skin patch and generally communicate by clattering their bills.
These three points are the major grounds on which you can differentiate between these two wading bird families. However, if you want to explore other characteristics that can help you distinguish between them, stay with me till the end.
Differences in vocalization
Are you one of those birders who can recognize a bird by merely listening to their calls? In that case, we have good news for you. When it comes to differentiating between storks and cranes, using their vocalization is the most effective method of doing it.
It might come as a surprise to many, but storks are one of the few birds that lack a syrinx, a sound-producing organ that helps birds in vocalization. The absence of syrinx has made these birds mute or incapable of producing any kind of sound.
Therefore, instead of vocalizing, the storks use their bills in order to communicate with one another. Bill-clattering is their way of talking to each other.
On the other hand, the cranes possess a unique, looped windpipe that helps them in producing calls loud enough to be heard from miles away. These birds are also capable of producing a variety of different calls.
Take the Sandhill Cranes, for instance. These cranes are known to produce over 20 different calls, including loud squawking calls, soft purrs, trumpeting alarm calls, and much more.
So, if you’ve spotted a large wading bird around your neighborhood that is unnervingly quiet, it means that you’ve spotted a stork.
Differences in habitats
In terms of habitat preference and distribution, both storks and cranes have a cosmopolitan population and can be found in diverse environments.
A large number of stork species are seen comfortably settling in the warm, tropical areas permanently (non-migratory). However, different individual species prefer different habitats.
For instance, storks like Marabous are more commonly found in open grasslands, light woodlands, and wet meadows. In contrast, the Openbills and Wood Storks choose to inhabit areas around water bodies.
The areas where you’re least likely to find storks include dense temperate forests as well as rainforests. No stork species, except Storm’s Storks and European Black Storks, are found here.
On the other hand, while cranes are also found on almost all continents (except Antarctica and South America), their habitat preferences are not as diverse as the storks.
A majority of crane species are dependent on aquatic life for their nutrition and are, thus, seen inhabiting areas around shallow water bodies, such as grasslands and wetlands. You will rarely find these birds nesting on trees.
In fact, the two African crane species (Grey-crowned and Black-crowned Cranes) are the only cranes that nest in the trees.
Migration and movement patterns
When it comes to the migration status of these birds, neither storks nor cranes are fully migratory or sedentary as a group. Some species tend to remain on their breeding grounds all year, while others choose to travel south during winters.
Let’s take a look at which species are migratory, sedentary and which ones have both migratory and sedentary populations in varying locations:
The Stork population
Migratory Stork species:
- Milky Storks
- Oriental Storks
- White Storks
- Black Storks
- Marabou Storks
Sedentary Stork species:
- Painted Storks
- Asian Openbills
- African Openbills
- Black-necked Storks
- Abdim’s Storks
Stork species that have both migratory and sedentary populations:
- Wood Storks
- Maguari Storks
- Saddle-billed Storks
- Greater Adjutants
- Lesser Adjutants
- Storm’s Storks
- Woolly-necked Storks
- Yellow-billed Storks
The Crane population
Migratory Crane species:
- Sandhill Cranes
- Whooping Cranes
- Siberian Cranes
- Red-crowned Cranes
- Blue Cranes
- Demoiselle Cranes
- Common Cranes
- Black-necked Cranes
Sedentary Crane species:
- Black-crowned Cranes
- Grey-crowned Cranes
- Wattled Cranes
Crane species that have both migratory and sedentary populations:
- Sarus Cranes
- White-naped Cranes
- Hooded Cranes
Differences in diet
In terms of their diet, the major difference between storks and cranes is that, while storks are carnivorous birds, the latter are omnivores. And while it might seem like the cranes, having more food options, would have a more diverse diet, the truth is quite different.
A majority of crane species have a common diet, varying slightly by the availability of food sources in their locality. Their primary diet includes seeds, nuts, acorns, leaves, roots, tubers, and rhizomes. Among the animal matter, they feed on small fish, mollusks, bird eggs, and amphibians. All cranes use different techniques for feeding different kinds of food.
You will also notice how the short-billed crane species tend to feed on drier lands (grasslands and meadows), while those with longer bills prefer to forage in wetlands.
On the other hand, the diet of storks includes insects and other invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and other small mammals. Different genera of these birds have a more specific diet, and their bills have adapted to it as well.
Today, we’ve learned that while storks and cranes are birds belonging to different orders and families, it can be quite difficult to tell them apart externally.
These birds look very similar to each other physically and can also be found in similar habitats. Moreover, despite the fact that cranes eat plants and storks do not, their diet looks very the same as well.
However, the best way to differentiate between these birds is by listening to their calls. If you’ve seen a stork, all you will hear from them is the clattering of their bills. On the other hand, in the case of cranes, be prepared to listen to a variety of loud calls.