The species today occur only in Africa, south of the Sahara Desert, and are the only cranes that can nest in trees. This habitat is one reason why the relatively small Balearica cranes are believed to closely resemble the ancestral members of the Gruidae.
Crowned cranes seem to have been more widespread prehistorically. Compared to the true cranes, genus Grus, which were always common in the Holarctic and adjacent regions, the present genus appears to have had a more Atlantic distribution, ranging into Europe and North America; it is not known from the fossil record of Asia.
Balearica rummeli (Early Miocene of Germany) – formerly Basityto
Balearica excelsa (Early–Middle Miocene of France) – formerly Grus and Ornithocnemus