Crane Symbolism: What Do Cranes Represent? [9 Meanings & Interpretations]


The crane is one of the rarest and most beautiful birds in America. With thin legs and long, graceful necks, cranes have captured our imaginations throughout history.

From peace to leadership to omens of guilt and salvation, cranes are rich with symbolism. They are most commonly associated with long life and vigilance. They can be seen as symbols of the divine or just plain good luck. They can also indicate when someone is feeling guilty about their actions.

Keep reading to find out more about what cranes mean in different cultures. The next time you see a crane, it could be a sign for your own life.

Crane Symbolism (9 Different Meanings)

There are two species of crane native to North America. One is the sandhill crane, which has gray or ochre feathers and a red patch on the top of its head.

The other crane, the whooping crane, is simultaneously the rarest crane and the one most often depicted in media. These birds are almost entirely white, with just some black at their wingtips and around their heads.

Although they have different colors, both birds are notable for their long, thin necks and graceful movements. They also carry similar symbolic meanings.

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Here are some of the most popular interpretations of what it means to see a crane.

1. Constancy And Vigilance

Cranes are notable for their stark white feathers. In fact, they keep their brilliant white color throughout their entire adulthood.

Because of their unchanging appearance, cranes came to symbolize constancy and focus.

Heraldry, the images used on a coat of arms, also view cranes as steadfast.

People once believed that cranes appointed a member of the flock to stand guard while the others slept. If the guard fell asleep, the stone would drop from its claw and wake them up.

So, a crane with a stone in its claw has become a common heraldic symbol. The symbol is known as “a crane in its vigilance.” A coat of arms bearing this symbol indicates the vigilant nature of the bearer.

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2. Good Fortune And Peace

The calling of cranes is also supposed to have saved the people of Thrace from a flood. So, if you hear a crane’s call when you’re feeling lost, have hope!

Seeing a red-crowned crane in real life is a symbol of good luck and a happy marriage

Cranes hold a significant place in Japanese culture, dating back to Confucian times. During that time, they believed that cranes could live to be 1,000 years old.

This belief carried over into an aspect of origami, or “paper folding.” The term for folding 1,000 cranes out of paper is senbazuru and some believe it grants the folder one wish.

Possibly the most famous example of senbazuru is the story of Sadako Sasaki. She was a young schoolgirl who survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Sadly, doctors diagnosed her with leukemia a decade later.

While in the hospital, Sadako attempted to fold 1,000 origami cranes for a wish, hoping to recover.

The novelization of Sadako’s story says that she only managed to fold 644 cranes before passing away. Tragically, Sadako did succumb to her illness, but her real story is a little more uplifting than the fictional version.

In reality, Sadako not only reached her goal but exceeded it. She inspired countless friends and classmates with her perseverance and courage.

After Sadako’s death, they raised money for a memorial to Sadako and all the other atomic bomb’s young victims.

To this day, people leave origami cranes at the memorial statue in Hiroshima Peace Park. The cranes are both in remembrance of Sadako and in hope of peace.

Watch this video to learn how to fold a paper crane of your own:

3. Leadership And Communication

In North America, the Indigenous clans use cranes as a “doodem,” or totem. Cranes can reach five feet tall in adulthood. Standing taller than those around them, they can see what the others can’t.

Native Americans use this as a symbol of clarity and leadership. To them, cranes can see the big picture instead of getting lost in smaller details.

This is especially helpful with communications between communities. A document bearing a picture of a crane signaled that the senders were open and easy to talk to.

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4. Devotion To God

There are two passages in the Christian Bible that refer to cranes.

The first is Isaiah 38:14 (King James Version). Hezekiah, King of Judah, says:

“Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter: I did mourn as a dove: mine eyes fail with looking upward: O LORD, I am oppressed; undertake for me.”

The cry or “chatter” of a crane is a mournful sound, indicating illness or distress. But God responded to Hezekiah with a message of hope.

So, a crane’s call can also serve as a reminder to put your faith in a higher power.

The second reference to cranes is from Jeremiah 8:7 (King James Version):

“Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgment of the LORD.”

Migrating cranes know their purpose in God’s plan and follow without question. Seeing a crane is a reminder to trust the word of God.

5. Longevity

One of the most common meanings associated with cranes is longevity.

Seeing a crane is a life-affirming omen, a sign that your life will be long. Giving an elder a representation of a crane shows you wish them good health and long life.

6. Guilt Or Wrongdoing

Cranes can be a sign of guilt or that someone has committed an offense.

This may seem like a negative but seeing a crane doesn’t always point the finger at you. It could be pointing you in the direction of someone else’s wrongdoing.

At the same time, if you do see a crane and feel a sense of guilt, then it could be a signal for you to remedy any mistakes you’ve made recently.

Alternatively, a crane could be warning you of imminent betrayal. A circling crane is a sign that either you or someone you know is harboring a guilty secret.

Be mindful of those around you and consider your own actions carefully as well. The truth will out!

7. Spiritual Messengers

Native Americans see cranes as messengers between the spiritual and the physical world. They can travel between the two as divine creatures.

If you have a dream about a crane, it could be a message from the spiritual world.

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You should keep your mind open and focus on the spiritual aspects of your life rather than the physical. You may receive an important message from beyond.

8. Father/Son Relationships

The symbolism of cranes is not only for when you see a live one in the wild. They also have certain meanings when depicted in art or literature.

Sometimes cranes are represented by a group of four other birds of all different species. Each bird represents an interpersonal relationship.

In these depictions, the crane represents the familial relationship between a father and his son.

9. Elegance

Whooping cranes are a rare and beautiful sight to behold with their visually striking white feathers.

They are also the tallest bird in North America, reaching up to five feet in height. Their necks are extremely long and slender, and so are their legs.

The combination of brilliant white feathers and graceful, long necks and legs make cranes a perfect symbol of dignity and elegance. They also fly and move with a smooth, dance-like flow.

Their association with spirituality and the divine makes them appear even more elegant to many people.

In Conclusion

Cranes are not only beautiful in appearance but also in meaning. People see cranes as symbols of divinity, hope, and long life.

Even as warnings, cranes offer hope. Seeing a crane can keep you vigilant against the negative actions of others. Their cries could also mean that help is on the way.

Keep an eye out for these birds the next time you’re outside, because it could mean you’ll have good fortune and long life.

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Want more birds in your backyard? Get simple tips on attracting feathered friends and maximizing your bird feeding setup. Our free cheat sheet has got you covered!
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James Goodman

James is a native Texan with a love for birding and outdoor adventures. When he's not birdwatching, you can find him hiking, camping or playing the piano.

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