Thursday, December 12, 2013

Grey Crowned-crane (Africa Series)

If you’re inclined to rank the beautiful birds of Africa, Crowned-cranes should rank near the top. In a land full of beautiful birds, picking favorites is a difficult choice.  But consider this, please.  Besides being sleek and curvy, finely feathered and spritely crowned, the Crowned-crane has another notable attribute…it can dance!  

We were nearing a small waterhole in the Maasai Mara, Kenya, when our driver, Lucas, stopped the truck and pointed towards two Crowned-cranes 100 yards ahead.  They were gorgeous!   

Being accustom to trucks nearby, they didn’t startle or fly away to our great relief. To the contrary, they started to dance. 

First the male…I’m not positive about who is who, as they look alike…started to display and circle the female. She responded by ruffling her feathers and lowering her head. 

He slowly circled her, posing six-foot wings in her direction.

She participated briefly in the dance, but seemed more interested in his performance instead.

He bowed to her and offered a tidbit of dubious value.

(Click on any picture to enlarge)

Their elegant performance lasted only thirty-seconds, ending with a slow, gentle lowering of wings and  
de-ruffling of feathers.

Now isn't the breeding season, but these courtship dances are performed throughout the year as a means of strengthening the pair bond.  

A pair will share in nest building duties and a month long incubation period before the chicks hatch. 

Immediately after hatching, the chicks are capable of following the parents to safety. The bird on the left appears to be an adolescent from last season’s brood. It is slightly smaller and its feathers are in the process of turning from brown to grey.

Grey Crowned-cranes, to use their full name, are omnivores with a seemingly healthy appetite.  They eat grain and seeds, insects, frogs, worms, snakes, fish, aquatic eggs and plant material.  

That makes a wide variety of food sources, yet their numbers are declining.  Loss of habitat is blamed for their decline. They are now listed as endangered by the IUCN*

Grey Crowned-crane and a close relative the Black Crowned-crane are the only cranes that can roost in trees due to a grasping, long rear toe. 

We found this one on a nighttime game drive roosting at the top of a tree in the rain.

Commonly found in pairs or small groups, the Grey Crowned-crane is the national bird of Uganda and is proudly displayed on their country's flag.  

With population declines of 50-79% in the last 45 years, it’s sad to see this beautiful bird’s status now listed as endangered.


International Crane Foundation
Wildlife of East Africa, Withers & Hoskins
*IUCN: International Union for the Conservation of Nature