No more spectacular group of birds exist than the worlds 15 species of cranes, and probably no single group is in more need of protection. The number of these ancient birds has been badly depleted over the last century.
All cranes are large to very large birds, including the world's tallest flying bird. They are stately inhabitants of open wetlands, wet plains and grasslands and they occur on all continents except Antarctica and South America. In South Africa, we have three species of cranes, the Grey Crowned Crane, the Wattled Crane, and our National bird, the Blue Crane, which is endemic to South Africa. Unlike the similar-looking but unrelated herons, cranes fly with necks outstretched, not pulled back.
Most species of cranes depend on wetlands and grasslands for nesting and foraging. With the destruction of these habitats, for agriculture, the birds have been affected by human activities and most are classified as threatened, to critically endangered. The plight of the whooping cranes of North America inspired some of the first US legislation to protect endangered species. And in South Africa, by the late 1980's the Wattled Crane was in critical danger of extinction, with only 80 breeding pairs remaining in the wild.