Classification

Class Aves

Order Griformes

Family Gruidae

Genus Balearica

Species Regulorum

Subspecies Gibbericeps

Habitat & Range

This species of bird prefers wetlands with nearby grasslands and cultivated land near rivers and lakes.

East Africa from northern Uganda and Kenya south to Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia.

Map of Africa

East African Crowned Crane

Balearica regulorum gibbericeps

All cranes participate in spectacular dance routines involving head-bobbing, wing-fluttering, leaps and deep bows, running with wings flapping and even short, low flights. These elaborate dances serve as courtship rituals to attract mates. For young birds, dancing helps develop physical and social skills, but spontaneous dancing can occur anytime during the year. In a flock of cranes, if one bird starts dancing soon all the others join in. In many cultures, including American Indians, Australian Aborigines, African tribes and the Ainu of Japan, humans mimic crane dances.

Adaptations

Stamp Your Feet

Crowned cranes stomp their feet as they walk across grasslands. This flushes out insects and other potential prey that the cranes quickly catch and eat. Cranes are also often seen moving among herds of large mammals to feed on the insects frightened by herd movement.

Crane Chorus

Living in large flocks, cranes have developed several methods of communication. All cranes are noted for their loud calls that can be heard over three miles (five km) away. Crane chicks start learning the meaning of various calls soon after they hatch. The unique “unison call” of a mated pair of crowned cranes announces their presence in occupied territory and warns other birds away. This call is a duet that begins when the male emits a series of long, low calls. The female answers with several short, high-pitched calls. Other nearby crane pairs return the calls to establish their territory resulting in a chorus of crane calls echoing across the area. Other forms of crane communication include body postures and displays that can signal aggression, threats or submission toward other birds.

Dance, Dance, Dance

All cranes participate in spectacular dance routines involving head-bobbing, wing-fluttering, leaps and deep bows, running with wings flapping and even short, low flights. These elaborate dances serve as courtship rituals to attract mates. For young birds, dancing helps develop physical and social skills, but spontaneous dancing can occur anytime during the year. In a flock of cranes, if one bird starts dancing soon all the others join in. In many cultures, including American Indians, Australian Aborigines, African tribes and the Ainu of Japan, humans mimic crane dances.

Physical Description

  • Crowned cranes stand 44-48 inches (112-122 cm) tall; males are slightly taller on average.
  • They weigh six to eight pounds (3-4 kg).
  • They have a wingspan of six and a half feet (2 m).
  • They have slate grey feathers on their body. Wings are white with black and chestnut coloring.
  • These birds are named for the distinctive, bristle-like, golden feathers on top of their black head.
  • They have a bright red patch above white cheeks and a red neck wattle.
  • Their long legs and beak are black.

Diet

What Does It Eat?

In the wild: Seeds, plants, grain, insects, worms, frogs, lizards, small fish and eggs. They forage on agricultural land.

At the zoo: Nutritional crane pellets and assorted greens.

What Eats It?

African predators including hyenas, lions, leopards and cheetahs.

Social Organization

Crowned cranes are social and gregarious birds living in flocks of up to 200 birds during most of the year. During breeding season, mated pairs establish and defend a nesting territory using their loud calls to warn other birds away.

Life Cycle

Like other cranes, East African crowned cranes are monogamous and pair for life. During breeding season, both males and females participate in graceful and elaborate mating dances. Once paired, mated couples build a large circular nest, made of grasses and vegetation, in a secluded area of marshy ground. The female lays up to four bluish-white eggs, and both parents incubate the eggs; females incubate at night and males during the day. The eggs hatch after 28-31 days. Crane chicks are well developed when they hatch and within a few hours can follow the parent birds around learning how to forage for food. The chicks develop flight feathers at two to four months but after fledging stay with their parents for eight to ten months, until the next breeding season. After leaving their parents, young birds gather with other juveniles and move to new foraging and roosting sites. By 18 months the young have developed adult plumage and begin practicing threat displays and mating dances. East African crowned cranes are fully mature by two to three years of age; these birds can live 20-40 years.years in captivity.

Fun Facts

  • Crowned cranes are the only species of crane that can roost in trees, due to their prehensile hind toe that allows them to grasp tree limbs.
  • The crowned crane is the earliest evolved species of the living Gruidae.
  • This species has the largest clutch size of any crane.
  • Crowned cranes will sometimes feign injury to lure predators away from a nest site.
  • Crowned cranes do not migrate but do fly short distances between breeding and nonbreeding areas.

Conservation Status

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Cranes need large areas of habitat but rapidly increasing human populations in Africa have converted crane habitat for farms and housing. Even the marshlands needed for nesting sites are being drained for agricultural purposes. Other threats to the birds include heavy pesticide use, livestock overgrazing, live trapping for the export trade and hunting. Conservation measures have been undertaken to protect cranes and in 1973 the International Crane Foundation was established to oversee the survival of crane species worldwide. This species remains common over much of its historic range.

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