KINGDOM: Animalia (Animals)
PHYLUM: Chordata (Possessing a notochord)
CLASS: Aves (Birds)
ORDER: Gruiformes (Cranes)
FAMILY: Gruidae (Cranes)
SUB-FAMILY: Gruinae (Cranes)
GENUS: Balearica (Crowned Cranes)
SPECIES: Balearica regulorum (Grey Crowned Crane)
The grey crowned-crane is a resident of eastern and southern Africa, ranging from Kenya and Uganda in the northern extremities of the species distribution, to South Africa and Zimbabwe in the south. It is a non-migratory species; however, local movements may occur in response to the seasonal availability of water, food and nesting sites. The two subspecies inhabit different regions. The East African crowned crane (Balearica regulorum gibbericeps) occurs from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, and south through Tanzania to Mozambique; whilst the South African crowned crane (Balearica regulorum regulorum) is endemic to Mozambique, south through Zimbabwe to South Africa and west in small numbers in Namibia and Angola.
Its predominantly grey plumage contrasts sharply with black and white wings, a crest of golden feathers sitting on top of the head, and a bright red pouch that hangs from the throat. The head is black with large white cheek patches, while the neck is pale grey. Juvenile grey crowned-cranes have a brownish plumage.
The species is associated with a mixture of wetland and open grassland habitats, including flood-plains, marshes, rivers and savannah. Medium-height open grassland near wetlands is preferred foraging habitat, while tall trees are required for nesting. In East Africa, this crane can be found in modified habitats such as pastures, croplands and irrigated areas. In South Africa, it occurs in marshes, grasslands and savannahs, and cultivated fields.
They are omnivores, eating plants, seeds, grain, insects, frogs, worms, snakes, small fish and the eggs of aquatic animals. Stamping their feet as they walk, they flush out insects which are quickly caught and eaten.
Crowned cranes are social and gregarious birds living in flocks of up to 200 birds during most of the year.
Grey-crowned cranes are a monogamous species (having one partner) and appear to mate for life. During the breeding season, the cranes dance, bow, run and jump, while giving low booming calls. These calls are given with the head lowered to shoulder level followed by copulation that is repeated few weeks before laying. Both sexes select the nest-site within the territory, and give unison calls from the site. They build the nest together. They can also nest in trees or use abandoned nests of large tree-nesting species, but this rarely occurs.
During breeding season, mated pairs establish and defend a nesting territory using their loud calls to warn other birds away.
The life span of the grey crowned crane in the wild is unknown, but in captivity they can live between 22 and 40 years.
Hyenas, lions, leopards and cheetahs prey on the grey crowned crane.
Populations are declining due to degradation of the habitat by human developments, changes due to drought in several regions, loss of breeding areas due to drainage of wetlands, overgrazing, the pet-trade, egg-collecting, hunting and the use of pesticides.
Did you know?
- The grey crowned crane is the national bird of Uganda and it is represented on their national flag
- The grey crowned crane is the only crane to perch in trees because they have toes that allow them to grasp tree limbs
- The grey crowned crane is the earliest evolved species of the living Gruidae
- This species has the largest clutch size of any crane