鶴、鷺、鸛: Crane, heron, stork

I keep confusing these fellows:

Kanji Japanese English Family Latin Portuguese
tsuru crane Gruidæ grus grou
sagi heron Ardeidæ ardea garça
kō-no-tori stork Ciconiidæ ciconia cegonha

An egret is basically a white heron (Jap.: shirasagi), especially those who develop fine plumes during mating season. The heron/egret distinction is cultural, not biological. The word “egret” is from Fr. aigrette, from aigron = heron.

It’s not easy to distinguish cranes, herons, and storks by appearance alone, since each category includes dozens of different species, and the individual variation between species is greater than the average difference between the categories.

Pictures of various cranes. Samples:
Grus americana -Calgary Zoo, Alberta, Canada -head-8a (1)
Crane (Grus grus) (3)
Grus japonensis -Kansas City Zoo, Missouri, USA -head-8a

Pictures of various herons. Samples:
Ardea alba4
Casmerodius albus portrait

Pictures of various storks. Samples:
Ciconia episcopus LC0186
White Stork 12
Bird Ana Cotta 3047209110

There are however significant differences in biology:

Bill Neck when flying Inhabits Powder down Diet Hunting methods Syrinx (vocal organ) Migration
Crane thin, spear-like outstretched shallow freshwater no omnivorous moves slowly probing for insects yes (highly vocal, with a large vocabulary of calls) some
Heron varies; typically crane-like pulled back in S shape freshwater or coastal yes carnivorous sit motionless, wait for prey yes most
Stork tend to be heavier outstretched drier places; nests on trees and rocks no carnivorous like crane no (mutes) most

Kanji information

Kanji Analysis As a component
寉|隺 +
kaku/crane kaku/crane + bird stone + kaku/crane
ro/heron ro/road + bird
+ >
kan/stork kan/stork + bird; kan 雚 part is:
艸 grass
+ 吅 ken/screech (ironically! see above)
+ 隹 short bird
kan/stork + drink
kan/stork + look
tree + kan/stork
kan/stork + force

Etymological families

Mostly from etymonline (more info welcomed!)

  • PIE *gere- “large wading bird” (perhaps imitative of cry)
    • > L. grus > Por. grou
    • > P.Gmc. *cran > Eng. “crane”
  • PIE *qriq-, also perhaps imitative
    • > P.Gmc. *hraigran > Old.Fr. hairon > Eng. “heron”
    • ? > Old Provençal aigron, aigreta > Old. Fr. aigrette > Eng. “egret”
    • > Hispano-Celtic *cárcia (cf. Welsh crychydd) > Por. garça “heron” (some suggest relation to “grace”? Por. graça < L. grātia < ??)
  • PIE *ster- “stiff”
    • > P.Gmc. *sturkas > Eng. “stork”. Cognate to “stark”.
  • (?) PIE *ered- “to flow, dampness”
    • *> L. ardea
  • ???
    • > L. ciconia > Por. cegonha
  • ???

Crane triviafest

Cranes are renowed for beauty and grace. In Japan the representative of the class is the gorgeous (and endangered) red-crowned crane (Grus japonensis). They were said to live a thousand years, and are therefore a symbol of longevity & a mount of choice of Taoist immortals – though the birds got nothing on turtles, who live to a full man: ten thousand years. This is the inspiration for Dragon Ball’s Master Crane (Tsuru-sen’nin) versus Master Turtle (Kame-sen’nin); the title sen’nin 仙人 refers to Taoist immortals.

Of course, cranes are the most famous origami motif, and there’s the whole “thousand cranes” (Senbadzuru) thing. Tsuruhime “crane princess” was a (popular?) female given name, dating from the Edo period, and perhaps inspired by the Crane Wife folktale. Also during Edo, crane meat was a delicacy, served in samurai banquets.

Thanks to their elaborate calls and mating rituals, they’re associated with music and dance, and have inspired a number of traditional music pieces, as well as martial arts – Chinese White Crane Boxing was the source of Okinawan karate, and one can still feel a definite gruitas in some of its kata forms.

A common Japanese painting motif is the “crane on pine tree” (Jap. 松上の鶴), which juxtaposes two symbols of longevity, the Japanese red-crowned crane and the long-lived evergreen tree; cranes appear in the Pine suit of Hanafuda cards. However, most cranes can’t climb trees, and this tradition was perhaps a confusion with tree-loving storks. This zoo’s website has an illustration of a Japanese crane failing to be on a pine, while a stork and a black-crowned have no trouble.

Pliny the Elder wrote that cranes would appoint one of their number to stand guard while they slept. The sentry would hold a stone in its claw, so that if it fell asleep it would drop the stone and waken. A crane holding a stone in its claw is a well-known symbol in heraldry, and is known as a crane in its vigilance.

English speakers can access the meanings of the individual morphemes in “blueberry”, “strawberry”, or “longberry”, but most speakers don’t know the meaning of “cran-” in “cranberry” or “mul-” in “mulberry” – even though they do parse the words as two morphemes: a berry of “cran”, a berry that’s “mul” (whatever those may be). In linguistics, this kind of distinctive but meaningless element is named from this example: they’re “cranberry morphemes”. Even if you didn’t know the etymology of “cran-”, this post probably had already primed you enough that you must have guessed the trick: cranberries were originally crane-berries (and now, in your individual English, “cran-” in “cranberry” isn’t a cranberry morpheme anymore).

Here’s a 1555 Swedish engraving of a military crane squad battling dwarves, complete with air raids:

This illustration is from historian Olaus Magnus, but the Crane-Dwarf War was actually a widespread trope dating back to Homer. Acording to the Greeks, the cranes acquired a taste for dwarven (pygmy) blood, and through the ages their ongoing conflict was reported upon by observers of many different peoples. Mūsā Ud-Damīrī’s (14c) told of one-eyed dwarves battling storks; the tribe found by the Turk fought sables; the one by the Cherokee, geese; while the Comox only reported that the dwarves battled “birds”.

A little bit on storks and herons

Storks like human settlements: dry, safe, with plenty of tasty vermin, and comfy roofs and chimneys to nest on. Their imposing, unabashed but friendly presence has long been considered a good omen (in Germany, a stork’s nest would protect your house from fires). Associations with parental devotion, filial devotion, and childbirth date from the ancient Greeks. There’s a lot of folklore on Wikipedia’s page about white storks.

Herons seem to figure comparatively less on art and folk-lore, but the Heron and Egret Society has a short list of symbolic associations. The egret’s fine mating plumage was valued by humans as ornament. The little egret (Egretta garzetta, Jap. kosagi), with its nape plumes, is a familiar motif in Japanese painting.

Sources for everything not linked: English and Japanese Wikipedias.

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