The Hooded Crane (Grus monacha) is a mostly dark gray-bodied member of the crane family, which, while small for a crane, is still on the large side for a bird.
Let’s take a closer look at the mysterious-sounding Hooded Crane.
The Hooded Crane has a gray body, with a white neck and head, and a patch of eye-catching – not to say identifying – bare red skin above the eye.
While one of the smallest birds in the crane family, you still wouldn’t necessarily want to tangle with a Hooded Crane, as it can be up to 3.3ft (1m) long, with a wingspan of up to 6.2ft (1.87m).
Weight ranges differ from males to females, with males weighing between 7.2 pounds (3.2Kg)-10.7 pounds (4.8Kg), and females ranging from 7.5 pounds (3.4Kg)-8.2 pounds (3.7Kg).
Male Vs Female
There’s little discernible difference in plumage patterns between male and female Hooded Cranes. But as mentioned above, you should be able to tell a male from a female by size.
That said, there’s quite some overlap between the observed size-ranges for males and females, so it’s worth watching them closely for behavioral elements to make absolutely sure.
Are They Aggressive?
Left to their own devices, Hooded Cranes rarely show aggression outside of contested courtship situations – and once they’re paired, they are usually monogamous for life.
In rare cases, cranes have been known to peck at humans and do damage to vehicles. It’s thought though that this is often because they’ve seen a reflection of their own image in vehicle mirrors and mistaken the humans for other, potentially aggressive, Hooded Cranes.
What Adaptations Do They Have?
The most notable adaptation of the Hooded Crane has been one forced upon it by a non-evolutionary shrinking of its natural habitat.
Faced with this shrinkage, the Hooded Crane has adapted to use – and in at least 80% of cases, has come to rely on – artificial feeding stations established by humans.
This change in feeding pattern, while useful in the short term, may have unforeseen consequences to breed stability in the long run.
Firstly, Hooded Cranes are monogamous, and once they’ve pair-bonded, they stay together throughout the whole of the year, year after year, usually for the rest of their lives.
When it’s time to mate, they perform a range of courtship displays, including both “unison-calls” and “duets,” where mates sing together.
There are also courtship dance rituals that include bowing, jumping, running and wing-flapping, and also tossing some plant material into the air.
They will sometimes stand up with their head thrown back and their bill upwards. During the “unison-call,” the male also raises his wings.
The Hooded Crane gives high-pitched calls – in common with all members of the Crane family. During courtship, the unison-call and the duets between mates are very distinctive – and carry quite a long distance.
To initiate the courtship display, the male will give a single call, and the female will respond with two or three calls.
What Do They Eat? (Diet)
The Hooded Crane has a reasonably rounded diet, getting protein from insects and amphibians, but adding aquatic plants into their diet, like rhizomes, seeds and grains, rice and cereals.
If humans have created feeding stations, as they have in Korea and Japan, Hooded Cranes will also happily eat food from those stations.
Where Do They Live? (Habitat)
The Hooded Crane breeds in remote bogs and forested wetlands at high altitudes. If they’re not breeding, they live in more open wetlands, grasslands, and even cultivated areas (where the eating is sometimes plentiful).
In winter, you can find them on the shores of lakes and rivers, in ricefields, grassy marshes, and again in cultivated areas. Coastal fields and marshes play host to Hooded Cranes, too.
During their migration, you might even find them in wooded or open steppes.
The traditional breeding grounds of the Hooded Crane are in central and southeastern Russia and northern China, though there are also non-breeding flocks in the Russia-Mongolia-China border region.
More than 80% of Hooded Cranes spend the winter at the Izumi Feeding Station on the Japanese island of Kyushu. Small numbers are found at Yashiro in southern Japan, in South Korea and at several sites along the middle Yangtze River in China.
What Are Their Nesting Habits?
Hooded Cranes establish their nesting territory quickly after arriving at their breeding grounds, the mated pair both defending their space with both calls and threat displays.
The nest-site will be located in a bog with scattered larch trees nearby. As with the defence of the territory, both birds will help to build the nest, fetching branches, leaves and moss from the surrounding area.
The female will usually lay two eggs per mating season, and again as with defence and nest-building, both parent birds will take their turn incubating the eggs over the course of roughly a month.
In the nest, both birds will feed the hatchlings, and where possible, the chicks will soon follow their parents to a feeding area. They will not feed for themselves for several months though, relying on parental feeding in these early stages.
It will take the young around 75 days to fledge after hatching, and the family will leave the breeding grounds together, as a family.
They will remain as a family until the next mating season. The young birds will reach their own sexual maturity at the age of between 3-4 years.
When the family leaves the breeding ground, they won’t return to it until the next spring, having migrated in the meantime.
How Long Do They Live? (Lifespan)
Barring accident and disease, Hooded Cranes can live until around the age of 13.
As they reach their sexual maturity by the age of 4, and usually produce, incubate and feed two eggs per breeding season, this would ordinarily give them a solid chance of increasing their numbers year on year.
But the shrinkage of their natural habitat to serve human needs makes these statistics less comforting for the future of the breed than they should be.
More Hooded Cranes on increasingly sparse land mass (especially in winter, when most of the feeding the Hooded Crane does is at man-made feeding stations) can lead to intensified chances of disease – and can cut the natural lifespan of Hooded Cranes in the wild significantly.
What Predators Do They Have?
The Hooded Crane’s natural habitats, tending either to be at high altitude, in wetlands or on cultivated land, have few if any large predators to fear.
What can partly explain their low numbers in the wild is the increasing loss of wild wetland and the degradation of their wintering grounds as China and South Korea reclaim land for development and dam-building.
It’s true that humans are also trying to help the Hooded Crane by creating artificial feeding stations. However, unfortunately, high concentrations of the birds at these stations have also led to an increased transmission risk of diseases which pose a threat to the birds.
What Are Their Feathers Like?
Hooded Crane feathers are gray on the outside, but can look dark brown or even black on the underside when stretched out to fly. The feathers are rounded at the end to allow for easy flight and gliding.
What Does Their Poop Look Like?
The poop of the Hooded Crane usually has a gritty, almost crystalline look to it. The color may change depending on the season and what the crane has been eating and can range from a kind of grit-grey to more arresting dark caramel colors.
While Whooping Crane droppings are fairly substantial in size, as you’d expect of the smaller Hooded Crane, you’ll have to look harder to find their droppings.
One thing to be aware of is that if you see Hooded Crane poop – or what you think may be Hooded Crane poop – be careful around it. Researchers have found up to 11 strains of parasite in an admittedly substantial number of samples.
That means you can never be entirely sure what you might be dealing with in a relatively fresh Hooded Crane poop.
Do They Migrate?
Yes, Hooded Cranes migrate. In fact, when they migrate for the winter, they do so in large flocks.
Worryingly, more than 80% of surviving Hooded Cranes now winter at the Izumi Feeding Station on the Japanese island of Kyushu – meaning the viability of the species is dependent on the maintenance of that single feeding station.
Small numbers also winter at Yashiro in southern Japan, in South Korea and at a number of different locations along the middle Yangtze River in China.
At the time of writing, the species was estimated to consist of only 11,600 individuals.
As mentioned, the main threats to the species are not large predators or a natural food chain, but a shrinking of the Hooded Crane’s natural habitats due to human actions like land reclamation and dam-building.
Conservation activities since 2008 have included the creation of artificial feeding stations, though these in turn have perversely spread diseases among highly intensified communities of birds.
The hooded crane is classed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.
Hooded Cranes are relatively new to our knowledge – they nest in remote forested wetlands in southeastern Siberia that it was not until early 1974 that we found our first Hooded Crane nest!