The Grey Crowned Crane

23rd June 2010
Distribution: There are two subspecies. The East African Balearica regolum gibbericeps (Crested Crane ) occurs from eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo through Uganda and Kenya to eastern South Africa. It has a larger area of bare red facial skin above the white patch than the smaller Balearica regulorum regulorum (South African Crowned Crane ) which breeds from Angola south to South Africa.

Status: Although the Grey Crowned Crane remains common over much of its range, it faces threats to its habitat due to drainage, overgrazing, and pesticide pollution. It has been retrieved on 5 May 2006 from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Spevies and is now classified as Least Concern.

Habitat: It occurs in dry savanna although it nests in somewhat wetter habitats.

General habits: The Crowned Crane is often seen in pairs, since it mates for life. Pairs are very territorial and are aggressive when defending their territory or chicks. The Crowned Crane is frequently found in trees.

Feeding habits: Like all cranes, it feeds on insects, reptiles and small mammals, notably aquatic animals.  When foraging, it has a special technique which consists of moving through the grass and stamping its feet to scare up insects or other small animals. 

Breeding habits: The Grey Crowned Crane has a breeding display, to help attract a mate, involving dancing, bowing, and jumping.

Nest: The nest is a flat and circular platform of grass and other plants - such as reed -  in tall wetland or grassland vegetation. Instead of building their own nests, Grey Crown Cranes frequently use ground nests that have been abandoned by other large bird species.

Eggs: The Grey Crowned Crane lays a clutch of 2-5 eggs, 2 being most common. Both parents incubate for 28-31 days.

Young: Chicks are able to fly at about two to three months. However, they may remain with their parents for as long as nine months. Young birds are greyer than adults, with a feathered buff face. They reach maturity in three years. The Crowned Crane life span is 50 to 60 years.

Call: The Crowned Crane has a booming call which involves inflation of the red gular sac. It also makes a honking sound quite different from the trumpeting of other crane species.

Description: The Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum ) is a bird in the crane family Gruidae. It is about 1 m tall and weighs 3 to 4 kg. It has a wingspan of between 180 and 200 cm. Its body plumage is mainly grey. The wings are also predominantly white, but contain feathers with a range of colours. The head has a crown of stiff golden feathers. The sides of the face are white, and there is a bright red inflatable throat pouch. The bill is relatively short and grey, and the legs are black. The sexes are similar, although males tend to be slightly larger.

Did you know: There are several subspecies of the African Crowned Crane, and all are similar in appearance and are recognized by the crown of yellowish feathers on the back of their heads.  The endangered northern subspecies is black-necked and is considered the most impressive of these cranes.  The vulnerable gray-necked group consists of the southern and eastern subspecies. The Grey Crowned Crane is the national bird of Uganda and features in the country's flag and coat of arms . It is also regarded as an important symbol in other parts of its range, including Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, and Zambia.

The Grey Crowned Crane and the closely related Black Crowned Crane are the only cranes that can roost in trees, because of a long hind toe that can grasp branches. This habit, amongst other things, is a reason why the relatively small Balearica cranes are believed to closely resemble the ancestral members of the Gruidae.

The Grey Crowned Crane is also called: Grue royale [French]; Gru coronata grigia [Italian]; Grijze kroonkraan [Dutch]; Südafrika-Kronenkranich [German]