The majestic grey crowned crane is scientifically known as Balearica regulorum gibbericeps and is the most ancient of its kind.
Well known across Africa, the grey crowned crane is also known as the African crowned crane, golden crested crane, golden-crowned crane, East African crane, East African crowned crane, Eastern crowned crane and South African crane.
The grey crowned crane belongs to the crane family, Gruidae. With two subspecies across Africa, the grey crowned crane can be found across vast regions from eastern Africa to southern Africa.
Known for its striking appearance, unique dances and the distinctive gold feather crown on the top of its head, the grey crowned crane boasts numerous impressive features.
Young perform a spontaneous dance for social and physical aspects – all join in if one crane starts dancing the whole flock will start to join in
Unique in its appearance, the grey crowned crane possesses several stand-out features. On average the grey crowned crane weighs about 3.5 kg (7.7lbs) and has an impressive wingspan of 2 m (6.5 ft). They are about 1 m (3.3 ft) tall with long legs and a long body.
They have grey body plumage with black and white wings and a pale grey neck. Dangling from their throat is a bright red gular sac that inflates when they are under threat.
The top of the face is black with round large white cheeks. Their most distinctive feature is the gold feathered crest that sits on the top of their head like a crown.
The difference in appearance between adults and juveniles is that juvenile grey crowned cranes have brown body plumage and their feathers are fluffier as they have not yet fully developed.
Male Vs Female
The only difference between male and female grey crowned cranes is that the males are slightly larger than the females.
Are They Aggressive?
The grey crowned crane is not an aggressive bird.
However, during breeding season they are known to become highly territorial and will present their aggression through their body language and performance of loud warning calls to ward off predators. This call is done to defend their nest and territory from threat.
What Adaptations Do They Have?
The grey crowned crane is the earliest evolved species of crane. They have undergone evolutionary adaptations that other cranes haven’t.
One of their most significant adaptations is that they have long hind toes. These enable them to grip onto trees and branches allowing them to nest high up in the trees away from predators.
Other adaptations include;
Grey crowned cranes are known to stomp their feet when they walk across grassland. This is done to flush out small insects, worms, and potential food for them to catch and eat.
The grey crowned crane moves amongst herbs and large crowds of animals in the hope that their collective movement of the herd will flush out more insects for them to pick on.
Mated grey crowned crane couples announce their presence in occupied territory with a unison call. This ‘unison call’ is designed to warn other birds away. The call starts with the male beginning the duet with a series of low calls.
The female then answers with high-pitched calls. Whilst this duet goes on. It is common for other couples to join in with their unison call. This establishes the full territory and becomes a chorus.
Grey crowned crane dance
Grey crowned cranes are known for their elegant courtship dance. This courtship dance consists of wing fluttering, leaping, bowing, and head bobbing. Its graceful movement is designed to attract a mate.
Breeding / Reproduction Behaviour
The grey crowned crane is considered a monogamous species that mates for life. Not only do they perform a courtship dance, once mated, but they also continue to dance together and preen each other’s necks as a way of strengthening their bond.
Grey crowned crane couples work together. Both the male and female will select where they would like to nest within their territory. They both build the nest together and both defend it.
Grey crowned cranes will lay up to four eggs at a time on average. The color of the eggs is usually a dusky white.
A couple of weeks before laying their eggs they make low booming noises in preparation for their arrival. Their eggs take between 28 to 31 days to hatch from hatching the chicks should be able to run as grey crowned crane chicks are precocial.
Their chicks will then start to develop within around 12 hours. From this point, they should be able to swim and float.
Grey crowned crane chicks start eating on their second day. After four days they can follow their parents to find food.
The best place for grey crowned crane chicks to develop is in a marshland environment as it is easier for them to hide in such conditions compared to an open plain where they are visible to predators.
Their Calls / Sounds
Besides the unison call, the grey crowned crane chorus is their most frequent method of communication. This call is loud and can be heard for over 3 miles (5 km).
Crane chicks learn this call as soon as they hatch.
What Do They Eat?
Grey crowned cranes are omnivores. Whilst they tend to mostly eat invertebrates such as insects and worms. They also eat frogs, snakes, and eggs. They are also known to forage for plants, eating seeds, grains, millet, potatoes, and soybeans.
They have a varied diet that depends on what’s available to them at the time.
Where Do They Live?
Grey crowned cranes can be found in several regions stretching across eastern Africa to southern Africa, ranging from Kenya and Uganda to South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
They are known to occupy a variety of habitats. This can be anything from wetlands, rivers, and marshes to open grasslands and the savannah. However, grasslands near wetlands are considered to be an ideal foraging and nesting habitat for them.
What Are Their Nesting Habits?
Unlike other cranes, grey crowned cranes tend to build their nests in tall trees or larger nests that have been abandoned by another tree nesting species.
Besides nesting in trees, they have also been known to roost in other high spots such as telegraph poles and spots near the water.
How Long Do They Live For?
Grey crowned cranes live up to 22 years. However, it has been known for a grey crowned crane to live longer in captivity with the oldest being 40 years old.
What Predators Do They Have?
Predatorial wild cats tend to hunt the grey crowned crane. These animals include, but are not limited to, lions, hyenas, leopards, and cheetahs.
What Are Their Feathers Like?
Their feathers are of a fine texture. They have a grey body, black and white wings, and a pale grey neck.
Do They Migrate?
Grey crowned cranes are a non-migratory species. Whilst they don’t migrate, they do move around locally. However, this is very rare and only occurs in response to the seasonal availability of water, food, and areas for them to nest.
What Is Their Conservation Status?
Grey crowned cranes are currently considered an endangered species that is in rapid decline. Whilst they are now protected in Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, they still face a range of threats and challenges.
The grey crowned crane is losing its habitat due to habitat degradation caused by drought. As they congregate in large flocks of around 200, they need large areas of land to thrive. The reduction of wetlands makes them vulnerable to predators.
A growing human population has resulted in an increased amount of land being converted for agricultural purposes and housing.
This has consequently caused the degradation of the grey crowned crane’s habitat as land is being converted into farmland that is not a habitable space for the grey crowned crane.
Due to an increase in agricultural practices, marshlands are now being drained for agricultural purposes, inevitably leading to potential nest sites for the grey crowned crane being taken away.
Farming has been detrimental in decreasing grey crowned crane numbers. The use of heavy pesticide use has caused many fatalities, whilst livestock overgrazing has taken away their habitat.
Humans are the highest threat to this species as many are taking part in trapping, export trading, hunting, and collecting grey crowned crane eggs. All such activities have contributed to the decline in their numbers.
Other threats to consider are the impact of deforestation, mining dam construction, and climate change.
Did you know that the national bird of Uganda represented on their national flag is the grey crowned crane?
Did you know that the grey crowned crane is the only crane that can perch in trees because they have toes that enable them to grip tree limbs?
Did you know that the grey crowned crane is 1 of 15 species of crane?
Did you know that grey crowned cranes live in large flocks of up to 200 birds outside of the breeding season?