Crane Adaptations: The Head

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A crane looks at, listens to, smells, and tastes the world through its head.

  • Its eyes are designed for clear vision in daylight, from early morning light to high noon and then on into the evening, but the pupil isn't big enough for night vision. Its skull is designed to slightly shade the eyes from overhead sun, and to allow the crane to see in front, to the side, partly above, and partly below.

  • A baby crane's head is covered with feathers. As the bird reaches maturity, the feathers on its crown fall out to reveal thick, bumpy red skin. Adults keep that bald crown for life. The color intensifies when the bird is mating or territorial. The crown enlarges or shrinks depending on whether the crane needs to draw attention to itself or is hiding.

  • Cranes have excellent hearing, even though we can't see their ears. The ears are protected by a layer of feathers.

  • Their sense of smell may be no better than ours, but cranes have a perforated nostril like vultures and some other birds with good senses of smell. Cranes don't have feathers protecting their nostrils the way woodpeckers must.

  • Whooping cranes eat a lot of blue crabs, but it's hard to be sure how well developed their sense of taste is. They have few tastebuds, and their tongue is pointed and shorter than their beak so they can't bite it. The beak is pointed in front, but the mouth is wide enough at the gape (the "corners" of the mouth, where the upper and lower beak meet) to handle a big blue crab. The beak isn't thick and strong enough to allow cranes to strike at fish as herons do, but does allow them to pick at a wide variety of food items from root tubers of plants to blue crabs, snakes, and mice.