Adaptations that Help Cranes Survive

Each species is unique (although some have close relatives) and each lives only in certain places in the world. Some species, like some crows and gulls, are generalists that can survive in many kinds of habitats and eat wide variety of food. Others, like the Snail Kite in Florida, are specialists that can only live in one particular habitat and eat mainly one kind of food. (The Snail Kite survives by eating apple snails.) A specialist thrives when its habitat and food source thrive, but is in big trouble when its food source disappears.

Cranes are specialists. They migrate and nest over a broad geographical range, but within that huge area can only live and feed in wetland habitats. Whooping cranes depend on blue crabs for their winter diet. If the blue crab population crashes, whooping cranes have poor breeding success the following summer.

Any ornithologist seeing a crane for the first time could instantly guess that this bird lives in wetlands, flies long distances without a lot of flapping, nests on the ground, gets food from wet soil or water, and has a loud voice. How? By understanding how the bird's body and behavior are adapted to its habitat. (Adaptations don't happen overnight; they are slow, gradual changes that can take hundreds of thousands of years to evolve.)

In this lesson, we'll look closely at cranes from head to toe. Remember: There's always a WHY behind WHAT you see. So whenever you see an unusual behavior or body part, ask yourself WHY. Students will then engage in an activity to see what they'd need to add to their own bodies to live like cranes.

Follow these links to learn about crane adaptations!




Legs & Feet

Activity: The Match Game
The most important part of a human body is the brain, which allows us to solve a lot of problems and adapt to a lot of different environments without changing our whole body. Let's think of some human inventions and how they could help us live like cranes.

Human Inventions and Crane Adaptations
Directions: Match the crane's needs with a human invention that allows us to do what cranes do naturally. (Print student worksheet.)

Crane Need

Human Invention

1. Crack open blue crabs A. Snowshoes
2. Walk in shallow lakes and rivers without getting its tummy wet B. Oxygen tank
3. Walk on soft, goopy mud without sinking in C. Hat, jacket, raincoat
4. Swallow great big crabs without choking D. Cars, buses, trains, or airplanes
5. Breathe at high altitudes E. Nutcracker
6. Make loud "music" F. Telephone
7. Migrate long distances G. Stilts
8. Keep warm and dry in bad weather H. Trumpet
9. Communicate with family over a mile away I. Knife and fork

National Science Education Standards

  • Organisms have basic needs. Organisms can survive only in environments in which their needs can be met.
  • Each plant or animal has different structures that serve different functions in growth, survival, reproduction.
  • Living systems at all levels of organization demonstrate the complementary nature of structure and function.