The Sarus Crane isn’t just any bird, with a wingspan of 240 cm (94.4 inches) and average height 152-156 cm (59 inches), it boasts to be the tallest bird in the world. You’ll find these unique birds in Southeast Asia and Australia.
Sadly, Sarus Cranes are on the list of vulnerable threatened species due to reduced wetland areas for them to reside.
There are three native areas. The Indian residents are usually found in Northern and Central regions such as Nepal and Pakistan, and the Eastern birds live in Cambodia and Vietnam.
They are found living near wet areas such as ponds or canals, although they have been known to drift into built-up areas. So, what else can we learn about these unique birds? Read on to learn more.
Sarus Cranes have distinct markings so are easy to spot. Adult cranes are predominantly gray with a white crown and blood-red head, nicely contrasted with a dark bill.
Their legs are usually pink or red, and there isn’t much distinction between males and females. Younger birds are easier to identify as their colors aren’t so vibrant. Their eyes are a beautiful red/orange hue.
Sizes vary slightly, but usually the male is bigger than the female. Some males can reach six feet in height, with a staggering eight-foot wingspan.
Male Vs Female
Perhaps the most noticeable difference between the males and female cranes is size. Females tend to weigh around 33-40 kg (72-88 Ib) whilst males average 40-45 kg (88-99 lb).
Are they aggressive?
Sarus Cranes are territorial animals especially when breeding and not too friendly. Like all animals, if they feel threatened, they can be aggressive. Most aggression is directed towards predators such as jackals, cattle, and people that are unfamiliar.
Some studies have revealed that Sarus Cranes behave differently around humans depending on whether they are strangers. If kept in a zoo, male cranes can be aggressive during breeding season and entering the enclosure can be challenging for staff.
The birds defend themselves using their long beak and can kill other animals with a quick strike. They demonstrate aggression by jumping around, flapping their wings and engaging in dance-like movements; best to keep away for your own safety in these circumstances.
What Adaptations do they have?
Sarus Cranes generally live in hot areas that can threaten the survival of their eggs. They lay very white eggs, and exposure to high temperatures can be dangerous to the embryo.
To mitigate the effects, cranes will shield eggs from the heat of the sun. Interestingly, white eggs can help deflect the heat from sunlight.
Conversely, the birds that live in colder climates lay darker eggs and are thought to be an adaptation, so more heat is absorbed from the sun to assist survival.
Breeding and reproductive behavior
The Sarus Crane is well known for its habit of mating for life. Breeding season is June-September, as they cleverly wait for rainfall to fill the landscape, so they can utilize vegetation in the wetland for their nests.
The courtship process is pretty impressive. To attract the attention of a potential mate, they will dance and produce loud trumpeting sounds. Mating starts young, and fledglings start developing motor skills early on to support the mating process.
Once coupled, the Sarus Crane pair are inseparable and do everything together. Once they start breeding, as long as their nesting site remains unchanged, they will return time and again. This is typically known as ‘site fidelity’ and a shared behavior amongst many large birds.
Their calls and sounds
When cranes have mated, couples engage in a series of calls in unison that are complex and continue for an extended time. The female starts the calling and utters 2 calls for every male call. Vocal communication is an integral part of a Sarus Canes behavior and is a remarkable auditory extravaganza.
The sounds are reminiscent of trumpets or a bugle. The sounds they make can be heard up to two miles away.
The unique shape of the bird’s sternum and enlarged windpipe means they can produce sounds that are distinctive and cover many frequencies. Young birds typically have a voice break at nine months and where they start engaging in their first adult calls.
What do they eat (diet)
Sarus Cranes are omnivores and typically forage in shallow water near where they reside. Their diet will largely depend on where they live and what’s readily available.
They use their long beaks to penetrate the mud and dine on a meal of insects, fish, aquatic plants and seeds. If their usual cuisine isn’t available, they will attempt to kill larger prey such as turtles or snakes.
During dry spells or the dry season, the birds will flock south [especially in Asia] where they can feast on tubers such as yams.
Where do they live (habitat)?
Habitat depends on where geographically the birds live. As mentioned earlier they gravitate towards wetland and in Asia you’ll find them in the flooded forests as well as wetlands at high altitude such as mountainous areas.
During dry seasons, the birds will find grasslands or can be found in rice fields.
Birds in Australia, when not breeding, may well be found in agriculture areas that make feeding more accessible, such as maize and groundnuts. In the Queensland area, they can be found in open woodland or riverside spaces.
What are their nesting habits?
Once coupled, a mating pair will build a nest that is on the ground using vegetation such as mud, grasses, and straw from the wetland in which they reside. The nest is large and can be 6ft (1.83 m) wide and 1ft (ca. 30 cm) high and in a circular shape.
A female generally lays two eggs that incubate for 31-34 days. The female looks after the eggs, whilst the male looks out for predators and protects the nest. When the chicks are born, they follow their parents until they’re ready for their first flight around 100 day after hatching.
How Long Do They Live (Lifespan)?
In the wild, Sarus Cranes can live up to twenty years and then die a natural death. With human intervention in captivity, they have been known to live 42 years or more.
One major risk to the lives of these birds is that of electrical wires. As the tallest living bird in the world, overhead wires have proved to be a death trap, and many bird’s lives are cut short every year due to electrocution. Wires around roosting areas pose the biggest threat.
What Predators Do They Have?
Due to their size, Sarus Cranes don’t have many ground predators. They’re adept at protecting themselves and can appear intimidating to potential predators, thus scaring them away.
If the cranes leave their eggs unprotected in a nest, they may risk losing them to birds of prey such as eagles. Large airborne birds could take an opportunist sweep at the nest however, this is unlikely as parents guard their nests viciously reducing any risk from predators.
What Are Their Feathers Like?
Sarus Crane chicks usually have light brown feathers. By the time they reach adulthood, the bird’s feathers are light gray. They also have feathers around the ears, but only develop this into adulthood.
What Does Their Poop Look Like?
As an omnivore, a Sarus Crane’s excrement predominantly holds more fiber and less moisture, which means the consistency is round, hard and relatively crumbly with a greenish gray appearance.
Do They Migrate?
The short answer is no, the Sarus Crane does not migrate. However, as they prefer residing on wetland, they sometimes migrate short distances when the weather is particularly dry.
As mentioned earlier, the Sarus Crane is classified as endangered. Their habitat is being threatened by increased demand for agricultural land. Their habitat is getting replaced by highways and housing developments.
Landowners spray fields with pesticides and the birds are forced to forage for food in the fields. Many die from toxicity, leading to a decrease in these precious birds.
Thankfully there are several conservation projects underway, such as the WWF in India to address the issue of preserving these species of birds and lowering the risk especially in breeding areas.
Many birds are currently being raised in captivity, mostly in Thailand, to increase their numbers to avoid extinction.
A Sarus Crane is a surprisingly fast runner and can cover a long distance. Best not compete with him in sprint or cross-country races.
Most cranes fly with their necks outstretched, giving them an angelic ethereal look.
The Sarus Crane can fly up to 45 miles per hour (ca. 72 km/h).
Cranes sleep standing up with one leg under his body and head tucked under the wing.
When one crane starts dancing, the rest of the flock join in.
Cranes are thought to be the oldest living birds still in existence, possibly around 10 million years old.
So, there you have it. You are now clued-up on the life and times of the humble Sarus Crane. A unique bird, colorful, vocal, and full of sassy dance moves, what’s not to love about this unique animal.