Red-Crowned Crane: The Ultimate Guide

Named after the exposed red skin, called a ‘cap,’ on the top of its head, the Red-Crowned Crane is the second rarest crane species in the world. They also carry great symbolism in countries such as South Korea and Japan.

But what do they look like? And what are their biggest threats facing them as a species? Below, we’ll answer those questions and more, including what type of food they eat, and how they fend off predators. All you need to know about the Red-Crowned Crane is below! 


The Red-Crowned Crane has white primary feathers and a black face and neck. Their snow-white feathers extend from behind the eyes to the nape of their beck, and the majority of their bodies are pure white except for the black secondary and tertiary feathers.

They also have a deep green bill and a long, sharp beak for catching their prey.

The Red-Crowned Crane is also one of the world’s largest cranes, standing 158 centimeters (5 ft) tall, with a wingspan of up to 2.5 meters (8 ft). They can weigh anywhere between 7 to 15 kilograms (15-26lbs).

Male vs Female

There isn’t much of a difference between males and females, except that males often have larger bodies, and females have grey feathers on their neck and throat, rather than the black feathers found on the males.

Are they aggressive?

Red-Crowned Cranes are not considered dangerous birds, and they very rarely attack humans. However, if they are threatened they will display various aggressive behaviors to protect their feeding area, nests, or family. 

What adaptations do they have?

Due to their large size, the Red-Crowned Crane can fend off many predators. It’s also a fast bird, meaning it can outrun its predators too! Their sharp bills can also act as spears, which is not only useful for spearing their prey but fending off predators.

Breeding/Reproduction Behavior

Red-Crowned Cranes are very communal birds and live in flocks. In fact, their family group is the largest social organization of cranes.

They have a monogamous mating system, with males and females forming pairs and remaining together for years. But before forming a pair, they will display various courtship displays to attract a mate.

This display is an elaborate dance full of leaps, bows, and headbanging. After finding a mate, the females will pick their nesting territory that is usually about 247-1729 acres (1-7 sq. km). The nests are made with materials like twigs and leaves.

Their Calls/Sounds

Red-Crowned Cranes make loud, high-pitched calls that are a rattling ‘kar-r-r-o-o-o’ sound. The chicks also have a loud, harsh call that becomes gentler when they receive affection from their parents. 

What do they eat? (Diet)

Red-Crowned Cranes are omnivores who seek out invertebrates, fish, amphibians, rodents, reeds, grasses, berries and corn, usually in marshes. 

In the winter, they enjoy rice in paddy fields, while the Japanese Red-Crowned Cranes feed on corn at artificial feeding stations. In managed populations, the cranes are fed mealworms, crickets, earthworms, small fish, and crane pellets.

Where do they live (Habitat)

Red-Crowned Crane

The Red-Crowned Cranes are highly aquatic with large home ranges in southeastern Russia, northeast China, Mongolia, and eastern Japan. Compared to other cranes, the Red-Crowned Cranes feed in deeper water than most.

They also regularly forage on pasturelands in Japan, and in the winter they switch to salt marshes, rivers, freshwater marshes, rice paddies, and cultivated fields. They prefer to nest in marshes with deep water and standing, dead vegetation.

The birds can also adapt well to cold temperatures. The Russian and Chinese populations mainly spend the winter in the Yellow River delta, and the coast of Jiangsu Province.

In winter and during passage, you can find the birds in wetlands such as salt marshes, tidal flats, rivers, wet grassland, saltpans, and aquaculture ponds.

What are their nesting habits?

Nests are usually built on wet ground or in shallow water. The female will usually lay two eggs, and she and the male will incubate the eggs for 29-34 days. 

The male’s main job is to defend the nest against possible danger. The chicks will take their first flight at about 95 days old. When the young cranes are three months old, they will join their parents in looking for food in the wetlands.

They will be able to fly by the Fall and the families will stay together until the next breeding season, when the newly adult cranes will leave their parents.

How long do they live? (Lifespan)

While lifespan in the wild is hard to determine, with human intervention, both male and female Red-Crowned Cranes can live for about 15 years.

What predators do they have?

Within their wintering ground, Red-Crowned Cranes have little to no natural predators. Their large size usually deters most predators. Red-Crowned Cranes are usually not bothered by the presence of other birds.

However, some birds like buzzards or eagles are likely to be egg predators, and the Red-Crowned Cranes will deal aggressively with these birds until they leave their nests alone.

Other predators like red foxes, badgers, raccoon dogs, martens, and domestic dogs do pose a threat to eggs and chicks and the crane will immediately defend their young from such predators.

They will usually attempt to jab these predators in their flanks until they run away. Larger predators like wolves and large dogs can easily be deterred by an aggressive male crane.

What are their feathers like?

Adult Red-Crowned Cranes have a red patch on their forehead, and a white plumage with black feathers that are visible when their wings are extended. 

Meanwhile, younger cranes have a combination of white, partly tawny, cinnamon brown and sometimes gray plumage. The neck collar can be gray or brown, while their secondary feathers are a dull black and brown.

Their crown and forehead are covered with gray and tawny feathers. Their legs and bills are a lighter color than those of the adults. At two years of age, the bird’s primary feathers are replaced with all white feathers.

What does their poop look like?

Red-Crowned Cranes produce small, brown round droppings.

Do they migrate?

There are two main populations of Red-Crowned Cranes. One migrates while the other doesn’t. The non-migrating breed lives in northern Japan on the island of Hokkaido, while the other population breeds in Russia, northeastern China, and Mongolia.

The latter population migrates to eastern China, and North and South Korea where they’ll spend their winters.

Conservation Status

After the Whooping Crane in North America, the Red-Crowned Cranes are the rarest cranes in the world, with only 1,830 adults in the world. This number is decreasing, making the Red-Crowned Crane an endangered species.

The wetlands where the cranes breed are shrinking, becoming too small to sustain the species.

Human activity and a natural dry spell are the main reasons for this habitat loss.

Lake Poyang in China – the country’s largest freshwater lake and a haven for cranes – has dried up due to sand mining, while the Three Gorges Dam has also unbalanced the lake’s water flow, which is what scientists believe is behind the lake’s shrinkage.

The habitat of the Red-Crowned Crane has also seen a lack of rainfall in recent years, and this is partially due to the natural rain cycle and climate change. This means that the crane’s breeding grounds are in a state of aridity.

Spring fires in China and Russia also make the environment dyer than ever.

The cranes that live in the Korean peninsula’s Demilitarized Zone also face threats. The cranes enjoy leftover grains that humans do not harvest, but because of newer agricultural practices the cranes have limited access to this grain.

The International Crane Foundation is coordinating a global effort to help the species, and now Red-Crowned Cranes are legally protected from being hunted.

For example, population restoration in Hokkaido in Northern Japan is very promising. Due to their isolated nature and the fact they do not migrate, these Red-Crowned Cranes depend entirely on local feeding stations.

These feeding stations are helping to gradually increase the crane’s population.

Meanwhile, sanctuaries have been proposed for the migratory flocks throughout China, Korea, Mongolia, and Russia. The DMZ Forum is seeking to introduce more traditional, less harmful methods of farming to Korea’s Demilitarized Zone.

Other actions that conservationists believe will be helpful include stricter protection laws, restoring the wetlands, and better managing of spring fires. Although these efforts require multinational cooperation, the joint interest in preserving these beloved birds is there.

Fun Facts

Red-Crowned Cranes are the heaviest crane species, weighing up to 25lbs (11kg).

Red-Crowned Cranes are revered in both South Korea and Japan. In South Korea, they are hailed as Durumi and Hak, symbols of longevity, peace, and purity.

Meanwhile, in Japan they are considered mystical and holy birds, symbols of good health, prosperity, love, and fidelity in marriage.

For a waterbird, preening is crucial. Red-Crowned Cranes have a uropygial gland on the base of their tail that ejects an oily substance to coat their feathers. This preening protects their feathers in a waterproof coating.

Red-Crowned Cranes can fly at a speed of 25 mph (40.2 kph). During the migration season they fly in flocks, and like other species of crane, are one of the tallest flying birds in the world.