Blue Crane Ultimate Guide

Appearance

The blue crane is a tall, land-dwelling bird that is considered small when compared to other members of the crane family. Capable of reaching heights of 100-120cm (39-47 inches), the blue crane has an average wingspan of 180-200cm (70-78 inches) and will typically weigh around 3.6-6.2kg (7-13lbs).

Other notable measurements include the wing chord (51-59cm / 20-23 inches), the exposed culmen (8-10cm / 31.-3.9 inches) and, finally, the tarsus (20-25cm). 

The blue crane takes its name from the pale blue-grey color of its plumage, which is noticeably darker on the bird’s upper head and neck. While the crane’s crown and lores take on a lighter hue, with the color sometimes being mistaken for a whitish shade.

Unlike the rest of its body, the bird’s beak or bill is greyish-pink in tone, while the primary feathers are distinguished by their greyish-black shade. 

Unlike other members of the crane family, the blue crane is known for its unique and relatively large head, which sits atop a proportionately thin neck. When born, blue cranes are brown or tawny in color and do not receive their long wing plumes until they have fully matured. 

Male vs Female

Interestingly, there are very few discernible differences between male and female blue cranes, as both genders are known to exhibit the same pale blue coloring and long plumes.

The only noticeable difference between male and female blue cranes is their size, with males often being larger in stature than females. 

Are They Aggressive?

Although blue cranes do not pose an immediate threat to human life, they can be extremely aggressive in nature, especially when they are trying to protect their nesting grounds from predators.

During the nesting season, blue cranes are known to be relentlessly hostile towards other animals, with the colorful bird even attacking non-predatory species such as cattle, sparrows and tortoises. 

Humans are also at risk of being attacked by the species during this time of year, especially if they accidentally find themselves situated near the blue crane’s nest.

Although attacks are rare and never fatal, there have been some instances where the crane has been able to tear clothing, while also administering deep and bloody wounds to the person’s face and skin. Making the blue crane a species best observed from afar. 

What Adaptations Do They Have?

When compared to other members of the crane family, the blue crane is considered to be a more terrestrial bird, with the species preferring to inhabit dry and grassy areas as opposed to wet and weedy environments.

Because of this, the blue crane has adapted in a way that allows it to navigate the uneven terrain, making it easier for the species to source food and escape predators. 

One of the blue crane’s most distinctive adaptations is its small feet, which they can use to run across the ground with precision and speed.

The blue crane also sports a short and very sharp bill, which the bird uses to dig beneath the surface of the land’s vegetation, where it will usually find and consume various insects and small reptiles. 

Breeding/Reproduction Behaviour

In the wild, male and female blue cranes will usually reach sexual maturity around the same time, with the common age for both genders being 3-5 years.

The species is also monogamous in nature, which means the birds form long-term relationships that will usually last until both parties die. Overall, blue crane courtship is considered a long and complicated process, with pair-formation usually beginning in early October. 

During this time, potential mates will run around each other in circles, to help convey their interest and attraction. If this process is successful, then the male will perform a dance that involves jumping around and throwing various objects up into the air.

Eventually, this ritual will attract a female who will confirm her interests by joining in on the performance. After the dance is complete, mating will usually commence within two weeks. 

Their Calls/Sounds

Blue Crane

Blue cranes are known to create loud and nasally sounds when calling to other members of their species, with the distinctive ‘kraaank’ noise being very similar to the sounds made by ribbed instruments such as the agogo and guiro. 

However, this does not mean that the blue crane is incapable of making other sounds, as the species has also been known to produce low-pitched rasps, as well as rattling and far-carrying croaks. 

What Do They Eat (Diet)

In the wild, blue cranes are known to eat a variety of different foods, ranging from plant matter to insects and small reptiles.

Using its sharp beak, the blue crane searches for food beneath the surface of the land’s vegetation, where it has been known to feed on various grasses, roots, tubers, cereal grain and maize. 

The blue crane’s diet also includes several living creatures, with the tropical bird being known to consume large insects such as grasshoppers and locusts.

Beyond this, the blue crane is also capable of catching and consuming fish, as well as various other species such as crabs, reptiles and even certain varieties of rodents. 

Where Do They Live (Habitat)

Blue cranes are a native species of South Africa and can usually be found inhabiting the southern and eastern territories of the country. However, a small isolated population is also known to reside in Etosha National Park in northern Namibia. 

Typically, blue cranes are birds of the dry and grassy uplands and can be found thriving amongst pastured hills, valleys and plains.

However, this preference will usually change during the mating season, when the species will search for wet and weedy areas to make their nests and lay their eggs. 

What Are Their Nesting Habits?

The breeding period for blue cranes is considered to be highly seasonal and will usually take place between the months of October and March.

Two weeks after the birds have formed their respective bonds, they will begin mating and searching for a prime area where they can build their nests.

Although some specimens have been known to nest in dry and grassy environments, most blue cranes will seek marshes or wetlands to lay their eggs. 

Typically, blue cranes will build their nests at high elevations, making the simple structures from organic matter such as underwater reeds and stones.

During the nesting season, the majority of female blue cranes will lay only 2 eggs, with the incubation period lasting for 30 days and being overseen by both parents. 

When the chicks have fully hatched they can walk after only 2 days and are primarily fed by their mothers through the process of regurgitation.

Blue crane chicks are brown and tawny when they are born and will usually fledge when they are around 3-5 months old.

The young are then fed and cared for by their parents until the next mating season, at which time the chicks will be chased from their nests and expected to survive on their own. 

How Long Do They Live (Lifespan)

Although blue cranes reach sexual maturity at a young age, this does not mean that they are incapable of living long and bountiful lives. In the wild, blue cranes have been known to live for around 20 to 30 years.

However, their lifespans are often cut short due to human intervention, nature and predators. 

What Predators Do They Have? 

Blue cranes are not under threat from many natural predators, with their most common enemy being domesticated dogs living in the local area.

As a species, blue cranes suffer more at the hands of human intervention, with the bird often being considered a crop pest in many South African territories. 

Because of this, the blue crane is often killed as a result of indirect poisoning, with their lives also being threatened by human developments, habitational loss and general persecution from the local people.

The species is also a prominent victim of the illegal pet trade, with the species currently being evaluated as vulnerable. 

What Are Their Feathers Like?

As we previously mentioned in the sections above, the blue crane takes its name from the pale blue-grey color of its feathers, which darken in tone on the bird’s upper head and neck.

From the crown to the lores, the plumage takes on a lighter hue, with the overall effect giving the bird’s face a whitish tinge. 

The blue crane is born with long wingtip feathers which the bird trails on the ground, with its primary feathers often being darker in color and displaying a black-grey shade.

Similarly, the bird’s secondary feathers are also darker than the rest of its body and can be distinguished by their slate-colored tone. 

What Does Their Poop Look Like? 

Like most species of bird, the blue crane does not sport a conventional anus but instead is born with a cloaca, which is a unique orifice that essentially dispels a mixture of both urine and faeces.

Because of this, the blue crane’s poo is high in a substance called uric acid and will usually take on a white hue with greenish-black accents running through it. 

Do They Migrate? 

Although blue cranes are known to migrate throughout the year, it is not on the same level as other species of bird.

Typically, blue cranes will only migrate to local areas in their home of South Africa, with parents often moving their chicks to lower elevations during the fall and winter seasons. 

During the winter months, blue cranes are also known to flock to warmer territories, with flocks often reaching numbers of several hundred birds. 

Conservation Status

Unfortunately, blue cranes are listed as a vulnerable species by the IUCN, with their population depleting every year due to human intervention and development.

Currently, there are several programs in progress to protect the species and its habitat, with an isolated breeding population being located in Etosha, Namibia. 

Fun Facts

  • Did you know that this species of crane has several different names? Although commonly referred to as the blue crane, this particular bird is also known as the paradise crane and the stanley crane in South Africa. 
  • Mated blue cranes take part in a complex unison calling that involves a series of coordinated sounds and rhythms. During this process, the cranes will usually adopt specific postures and will throw their heads back while lifting their wings over their sides. 
  • Although the blue crane is often considered to be a pest by the South African people, the species is actually the national bird of the country and has its own profile on the government website.