Why do Gaense fly on their sides

How do you recognize cranes?

NABU tips for differentiating between migrating cranes and geese

Cranes and wild geese have similar migratory behavior and often use common resting areas. Since their flight images are also quite similar, they are sometimes difficult to tell apart for laypeople. Find out how to do it!


Cranes and wild geese are migratory birds. They have a similar migration behavior and often use common resting areas. Since the flight images of migrating cranes and geese are quite similar, they are sometimes difficult to tell apart for laypeople. In order to better distinguish flying flocks of birds, we provide some identification aids here and show the most important differences in characteristics.


The flight image

Greylag geese - Photo: NABU / Klemens Karkow

  • Cranes, as well as geese, often fly in wedge formations. This allows the birds to save energy on their long flights by using the slipstream created by the person in front.
  • Cranes take up sailing phases more often, then barely or not at all flapping their wings. They also take advantage of the thermals by screwing themselves up due to rising winds. The formation is briefly dissolved and as an observer one can get the impression that the animals are circling without orientation. This behavior cannot be observed in geese.

The silhouette

Cranes - Photo: Ingo Ludwichowski

  • Cranes are quite a bit larger than wild geese. The wingspan of the crane is 180 to 222 centimeters, that of our wild goose species up to 175 centimeters.
  • The wings of the cranes look "angular", they have very long feathers on the wings of the hand (wing tips), which are spread wide, similar to eagles or vultures.
  • Cranes have long legs that, unlike geese, protrude over the tail feathers when in flight.

The calls

Cranes, as well as geese, often announce each other from a distance with their calls. The calls differ very clearly:

  • Crane calls are reminiscent of a “sublime” trumpet: “krru” - “krarr” alternately. In autumn you can hear the “Tschirp” calls of the young birds up close.
  • Geese call differently depending on the species, but they are similar to each other. They chatter, squeak (e.g. gray goose), squeak (e.g. white-fronted goose) or sometimes even fly almost silently (bean goose).

Species portrait

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