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CRANE (סוּס, H6061, [KJV]; עָגוּר, H6315, [RSV]). These two Heb. words are each found twice (Isa 38:14; Jer 8:7), tr. “crane” and “swallow” but reversed in the two VSS. A likely explanation of this is that the two were transposed by error in an early MS, and although there is no firm evidence to support this, ’āg̱ūr is now usually tr. “crane.” It is not surprising to find the crane included in the KJV, for up to the 17th cent. it bred in Britain and continued for some time to be a regular winter visitor. Driver claims that āgūr is the wryneck, but this is an uncommon migrant, the size of a sparrow and hard to see, so it is unlikely to be named. He points out that Arab. sis is the same as Heb. sus and means “swift,” from its twittering call; he argues that the migratory habit of the swift confirms this identification (Jer 8:7) rather than “swallow,” which is the more general opinion. This argument is not valid, for four of the six species of swallow and martins are migrants, and one of the three swifts is resident. There is little reason to tr. Heb. sus “crane.” Two cranes pass through Pal. or nest there. The common crane, now a rare visitor to Britain but still nesting in N Europe, is nearly four ft. long, and the demoiselle crane is rather smaller.

Like storks they fly with head out straight and legs trailing behind. When they were more common, cranes were considered good to eat and were not forbidden to the Israelites.


See Bird Migration. G. R. Driver, “Birds in the OT: II Birds in Life” PEQ (1955), 129-140.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

A bird of the family gruidae. The crane is mentioned twice in the Bible: once on account of its voice (Isa 38:14: "Like a swallow or a crane, so did I chatter"); again because of the unforgettable picture these birds made in migration (Jer 8:7): "Yea, the stork in the heavens knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle-dove and the swallow and the crane observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the law of Yahweh." Some commentators have adduced reasons for dropping the crane from the ornithology of the Bible, but this never should be permitted. They were close relatives of stork, heron and ibis; almost as numerous as any of these, and residents of Palestine, except in migration. The two quotations concerning them fit with their history, and point out the two features that made them as noticeable as any birds of Palestine. Next to the ostrich and pelican they were the largest birds, having a wing sweep of 8 ft. from tip to tip and standing 4 ft. in height. In migration such immense flocks passed over Palestine as to darken the sky, and when they crossed the Red Sea they appeared to sweep from shore to shore, and so became the most noticeable migratory bird, for which reason, no doubt, they were included in Isaiah’s reference to spring migration with the beloved doves, used in sacrifice and for caged pets, and with the swallows that were held almost sacred because they homed in temples. Not so many of them settled in Palestine as of the storks, but large flocks lived in the wilderness South of Jerusalem, and a few pairs homed near water as far north as Merom. The grayish-brown cranes were the largest, and there were also a crested, and a white crane. They nested on the ground or in trees and laid two large eggs, differing with species. The eggs of the brown bird were a light drab with brown speckles, and those of the white, rough, pale-blue with brown splotches. They were not so affectionate in pairs or to their young as storks, but were average parents. It is altogether probable that they were the birds intended by Isaiah, because they best suited his purpose, the crane and the swallow being almost incessant talkers among birds. The word "chatter," used in the Bible, exactly suits the notes of a swallow, but is much too feeble to be used in describing the vocalizing of the crane. They migrated in large wedge-shaped companies and cried constantly on wing. They talked incessantly while at the business of living, and even during the watches of the night they scarcely ceased passing along word that all was well, or sending abroad danger signals. The Arabs called the cry of the cranes "bellowing." We usually express it by whooping or trumpeting. Any of these words is sufficiently expressive to denote an unusual voice, used in an unusual manner, so that it appealed to the prophet as suitable for use in a strong comparison.

Gene Stratton-Porter

See also

  • Birds