Gruiformes are birds with long legs, necks and beaks. Gruiformes have elaborate courtship rituals and form large flocks.

Bustard, a family of game birds. There are 22 species. The bustard looks something like a turkey, but is actually more closely related to the rail and the crane. The male of the great bustard of Europe weighs about 30 pounds (14 kg) and is almost four feet (1.2 m) long. It is the largest European land bird.

Bustards live on dry inland plains and are found in Australia, Europe, Asia, and Africa. They feed on plants and insects. Shy birds with keen eyesight, they run away immediately at any sign of danger. Bustards are considered to be chiefly land birds, with feet and legs well developed for running. However, they are good fliers. Many species are in danger of extinction, primarily because their large size makes them easy prey for hunters. They are protected by law in many areas.

Bustards make up the family Otidae. The great bustard is Otis tarda.


Bustards are the largest European land birds, weighing up to thirty pounds.

Coot, a water bird that resembles a duck. The American coot is about 15 inches (38 cm) long. It has bluish-gray plumage, a black neck and head, and an ivory-white bill. Instead of being webbed, the coot’s toes are fringed with scalloped flaps. Somewhat awkward in taking flight, the coot patters along the surface of the water before becoming airborne. It is a skillful diver and excellent swimmer. The female lays 8 to 15 brownish, spotted eggs in a nest built among the reeds of a freshwater marsh. The range of the coot extends from Alaska and Greenland to the West Indies.

The European coot is similar to the American coot in appearance, but has a bare patch on its head.

The American coot is Fulica americana, and the European coot is F. atra. They belong to the family Rallidae.


The American coot has blue-gray plumage, a black neck and head, and a white bill.

Crane, a family of large wading birds. Cranes in flight resemble herons, except that cranes fly with their necks outstretched, while herons curve their necks into an S shape. The sandhill crane nests in an area ranging from northeastern Canada to Nebraska and the Gulf states; it winters in central Mexico and Cuba. It is nearly four feet (1.2 m) tall. Its feathers are a pale brownish gray. The head above the eyes is reddish, and is bare except for a few black, hairlike feathers. The sandhill crane is endangered because the draining of marshes in the United States has reduced its nesting grounds.

Cranes are large wading birds.

The whooping crane, a white bird that stands about five feet (1.5 m) high, is endangered. Around 1870, its nesting grounds on the North American prairies were steadily turned into farmland and the bird was often hunted for food and sport. The whooping crane gets its name from its loud, trumpeting call. Whooping cranes nest in northwestern North America and winter on the Gulf coast of Texas.


The whooping crane gets its name from its loud, trumpeting call.

Many kinds of cranes are found in the Eastern Hemisphere. Among these are the common crane; the demoiselle crane, with eyes having bright red irises; the Stanley crane, with long, trailing feathers; the West African and South African crowned cranes; and the wattled crane.

Cranes eat frogs, mice, snakes, insects, grain, and various kinds of marsh plants. Their nests are made of reeds and sedges. The female lays two eggs that are olive or brown with darker spots. Male and female sandhill cranes perform an elaborate courtship dance during the mating season. Cranes are protected by conservation laws.

Cranes make up the family Gruidae. The sandhill crane is Grus canadensis; the whooping crane, G. americana. The common crane is G. grus; the demoiselle crane, Anthropoides virgo; the Stanley crane, A. paradisea; the West African crowned crane, Balearica pavonina; the South African crowned crane, B. regulorum; the wattled crane, Bugeranus carunculatus.

Gallinule, a waterbird of the rail family, closely related to the coot. The gallinule is also called water hen and moor hen. It is found in Great Britain and in parts of the Western Hemisphere. Although gallinules have toes rather than webbed feet, they are skilled swimmers and divers. They feed chiefly on vegetation, snails, and crustaceans. From 6 to 14 eggs of various colors are laid on platformlike nests in marshes.

The Florida gallinule, about one foot (30 cm) long, is slate blue, with an olive-brown back, whitish underparts, and red legs and bill. It is found from Canada southward to the West Indies. The slightly smaller purple gallinule has purplish-blue underparts, an olive-green back, greenish-yellow legs, and a red bill. It ranges from the Ohio River southward into South America.

The European gallinule is Gallinula chloropus; Florida gallinule, G. chloropus cachinnans; purple gallinule, Porphyrula martinica. Gallinules belong to the family Rallidae.

Notornis, or Takahe, a flightless bird found only in New Zealand. It is about the size of a small turkey. It has bright greenish-blue plumage and a bright red bill. It was thought to be extinct until 1948, when a small group was found in a valley of the Murchison Mountains of the South Island. The birds are under the protection of the New Zealand government.

The notornis is Notornis (or Porphyrio) mantelli of the rail family, Rallidae.

Rail, a game bird that lives chiefly in swamps and marshes. The rail has a long bill, moderately long neck, compact body, stubby tail, and short, rounded wings. It has stout, muscular legs and large, strong feet. Its narrow, compressed body is well adapted to slipping between reeds, rushes, and cattails. When flushed, the rail flutters only a short distance, legs dangling, before dropping to earth. Its apparently feeble flight is deceptive, however. Some rails make extremely long migrations; the Virginia rail, for example, annually migrates between Newfoundland and Guatemala.

The rail is noisy, particularly at dusk. Its call consists of a series of far-reaching clucks and grunts. The rail is a secretive bird, more often heard than seen.

The nest, fashioned of reeds, rushes, and grasses, is made on the ground. Insects, worms, frogs, water-dwelling animals, and seeds form the diet of the rail.

Six species of rails are found in North America. Largest is the king rail, which reaches a length of 19 inches (48 cm). Smallest is the black rail, which rarely exceeds 6 inches (15 cm). The clapper rail frequents salt marshes on the Atlantic Coast and in California. It grows to a length of 16 inches (40 cm). The Virginia rail reaches 11 inches (28 cm). The yellow rail, the most secretive rail, grows to a length of 8 inches (20 cm). The sora is grayish-brown and reaches a length of 10 inches (25 cm).

Two species of rails occur in Great Britain: the water rail and the corncrake. The corncrake frequents open fields and grows to a length of 12 inches (30 cm). The water rail is about the same size.

The king rail is Rallus elegans; black rail, Laterallus jamaicensis; clapper rail, Rallus longirostris; Virginia rail, R. limicola; yellow rail, Coturnicops noveboracensis; sora, Porzana Carolina; water rail, Rallus aquaticus; corncrake, Crex crex. The rail family is Rallidae.


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