Despite what the name may indicate, the demoiselle crane isn’t a French bird. However, it is, supposedly, a favorite of Marie Antoinette.
Mostly found on the plains of East Asia, the graceful shape of the demoiselle crane has been inspiring artists and poets for centuries. This guide hopes to teach you everything you need to know about this exceptionally beautiful bird.
An immediately striking bird, the demoiselle crane has captured the eye of artists worldwide. The dark gray feathers of the neck and underbelly are contrasted with the lighter smoke gray feathers across the wings.
This pale gray continues part way up the back of the neck, finishing in an elegant point.
Facially, the demoiselle crane is sharply stunning. It has bright red eyes, offset with a long white line of feathers, finishing in a plume. This leads back behind the head, highlighting the elegant length of the neck. The beak is short and sharp, with a splash of color at the end.
The demoiselle crane is the smallest member of the crane family. At 33 to 40 inches long (85-100 cm), 30 inches tall (76 cm), with a wingspan of 61 to 71 inches (155-180 cm), and a weight of 4.4 to 6.6 pounds (2-3 kg), it’s smaller than the common crane. Juveniles lack the silver gray coloring of the fully grown crane, appearing sandy brown instead.
Male vs Female
Both the male and female demoiselle crane have an elegant appearance, and there is little to distinguish between them. The males are, on average, larger. However, in every other way they’re the same.
Are They Aggressive?
The demoiselle crane can be fiercely territorial and protective over their young. Left alone, the demoiselle isn’t hugely aggressive, although it does enjoy spending time by itself.
However, when threatened, they’ll put their large wingspan and long legs to use in order to protect their chicks.
What Adaptations Do They Have?
A shorter beak is something that the demoiselle crane has evolved as an adaptation for life on the savanna. The clawed feet and short bill help them to search through the grass, finding something to eat.
The smoke gray coloring also helps the demoiselle crane to blend subtly into the sparse surrounding of the grasslands. Pale patterning on the eggs keeps the young camouflaged in long grasses.
Like other cranes, the demoiselle crane forms bonds for life. It begins with an intricate courtship ritual, which takes the form of an enthusiastic dance.
Using graceful and exaggerated movements, the dance of the demoiselle has been compared to ballet. Vocalizations also play an incredibly important part in the ritual, signalling to the potential mate.
They don’t just dance during courtship. Instead, the pairs dance throughout their lives. It’s believed this is done to strengthen the bond between the pairs, and to get them in sync before mating.
The breeding season coincides with the rainy season, wherever the crane might be located. They lay one clutch at a time, consisting of two eggs.
The demoiselle crane can be quite a vocal bird. It has a distinctive high-pitched trumpeting call, a sharper noise than that of the common crane. The demoiselle crane also has a softer call that it uses for reassurance and to indicate location. This sound is almost like a purr.
What Do They Eat? (Diet)
An omnivorous bird, the diet of the demoiselle crane consists mostly of seeds and leaves. In the spring, it eats the green tips of the grass. In winter, seeds form the bulk of the diet. The demoiselle crane isn’t a picky eater, and will supplement its diet with insects, reptiles, birds, and small mammals.
Feeding time comes mostly in the morning and the early afternoon. They forage across the open grassland, using their long necks and short beaks to seek sustenance.
Where Do They Live (Habitat)?
Wide open spaces and grasslands form the habitat of the demoiselle crane. Unusually, they don’t spend much time near the wetlands.
Instead, the crane can be found in savannas, prairies, and steppes. However, they don’t like to be too far from water, and choose habitats with rivers and wetlands nearby.
Their wintering habitats are similar; spending time in open areas with nearby rivers. The demoiselle crane does like to keep to itself, staying away from populated areas.
The demoiselle crane has a wide habitat, and they can be found in 47 countries. They’re most commonly found in central and Eastern Asia, with a population that stretches from the Black Sea across to China and Mongolia.
Small populations remain in Turkey. In winter, the demoiselle crane moves to a new location. They spend these months in India and the surrounding area, and in northern Africa. In Africa, the population can be found mostly in Sudan.
What Are Their Nesting Habits?
Unlike many other crane species, the demoiselle crane makes its nest in the patchy vegetation of the grasslands. They use this grass to disguise themselves as they incubate their eggs, and to keep an eye out for any encroaching predators.
Nests are simple, although rocks and vegetation are sometimes gathered for camouflage. Incubation lasts for 28 to 36 days, with both parents lending a hand.
When the chick is hatched, both parents help to feed them. The chicks are fully fledged after 55 to 60 days, which is one of the shortest fledgling periods of any crane.
How Long Do They Live For? (Lifespan)
The lifespan of the demoiselle crane is roughly 20 to 25 years, although many of them don’t live that long due to the hard life and tough migration conditions.
The juvenile cranes will stay with their parents for close to a year, only leaving when the next breeding season comes along. They might then form small flocks with other unmated juveniles.
At the age of 2, the young cranes begin to show mating behavior. They start to perform the courtship dances, and look to choose a partner.
However, they won’t start mating until they reach sexual maturity between 4 and 8 years old. Demoiselle cranes do mate for life, but they don’t form a pair until the first successful breeding season.
The demoiselle crane is a relatively solitary species, but it does form flocks. Within these flocks, they spend most of the time alone. When migrating, they have been seen to gather with the common crane.
However, when in these larger groups, the demoiselle cranes tend to stick together.
What Predators Do They Have?
As the smallest crane around, they are at a higher risk from predators than other, larger cranes. However, the demoiselle crane doesn’t have a great number of natural predators.
In some areas, foxes and dogs are predators, and will attack the young. During migration season, golden eagles have been known to prey on the crane.
What Are Their Feathers Like?
Long, gray feathers cover most of the body and wings of the demoiselle crane. They have darker feathers on the underneath of the body, which can be seen best when the wings are outstretched.
The most unusual feather characteristic of the demoiselle crane is the marking around the eyes. A line of white feathers extends from around the eyes, and finishes in a plume at the back of the head.
What Does Their Poop Look Like?
No one really seems to know, although it probably isn’t much different from the poop of other cranes. The demoiselle crane spends most of its time away from humans, so their poop is rarely observed.
Do They Migrate?
Migration for the demoiselle crane is a long and difficult process. It begins in August, when flocks of cranes start to gather in groups of up to 400 birds. By the end of September, they’ve finished coming together, and they get ready to fly south for the winter.
The perilous journey is largely unseen, as they pass by at heights of between 16,000 and 20,000 feet (4900 and 6100 meters). Along the way, they have to cross over the treacherous Himalayas. Fatigue, predators, and hunger cost the lives of many travelling cranes.
Migration grounds can be found in India and the surrounding areas, and North Africa. Here, the demoiselle cranes look for similar habitats to their homes. In March or April, they begin the tricky flight back.
The demoiselle crane is currently listed as “least concern” by the IUCN. Steadily high population numbers mean the species is not currently at risk of extinction. However, their roaming range has decreased across the centuries. The demoiselle crane used to be significantly more widespread.
The migration path of the demoiselle crane takes them over the perilous Himalayas. Fatigue and harsh conditions cause many of them to die. Potentially, there are simpler routes for the crane to take.
However, years of flying to these wintering grounds is hard-wired into the species, causing them to follow the same routes again and again.
Supposedly, the demoiselle crane got its name from Marie Antoinette. Having been presented with a crane as a gift, she was taken with their delicate ladylike appearance.
Known as the Koonj in the languages of North India, the demoiselle crane features heavily in the art and literature of the region. The graceful shape of the crane has been inspirational.