West African Crowned Crane


COMMON NAME (SCIENTIFIC NAME)Balearica pavonina pavonina

DIETSmall grain crops, small plants, small vertebrates, and small invertebrates

RANGERegions from Senegal to Chad in north central Africa

HABITATFreshwater marshes, wet grasslands, and edges of water bodies

West African Crowned Crane

The West African Crowned Crane is one of two subspecies of the Black Crowned Crane. They have black and dark gray feathers with white under the wings. When standing they can be up to 3 ft tall with a wingspan of 6 f, weighing about 7 lbs. They can be easily recognized by the crown of stiff gold feathers on the top of their heads. Crowned cranes have red and white cheek patches. West African Crowned Cranes have a red lower half of the cheek patch. The Sudan species has red going to the upper half of the cheek patch. Their legs, toes, and bill are black. Crowned Cranes have the ability to perch because of their long hind toe that can be used for grasping. Males and females are generally indistinguishable, although males may be larger. Juvenile Crowned Cranes will have blackish-brown coloring and a brown crown.

Their main vocalization is a booming call where the crane will inflate a sac underneath its chin and push the air out. They will also produce variations of honks much different than calls from other crane species with longer coiled tracheas.

Habitat/Range: The West African Crowned Crane occupies the regions from Senegal to Chad in north central Africa. They are divided into approximately 8 populations. The population in Nigeria, where it was once abundant, has been reduced to just a few individuals. They can be found in either wet or dry habitats, but prefer freshwater marshes, wet grasslands, and edges of water bodies. They will always remain near wetlands but are not associated with deep, open water. They tend to nest and forage in upland areas, rice fields, wet crop fields, and abandoned fields.

Diet in Wild:  Crowned Cranes are omnivorous. Their primary food source is small grain crops and will also eat small plants, small vertebrates, and small invertebrates. They will eat grasshoppers, mollusks, millipedes, crustaceans, fish, reptiles, seed heads, grass tips, and agricultural grain such as corn and rice.

Diet in Zoo:  Crane pellets, fruits, vegetables. Invertebrates provided occasionally for enrichment

 Predators: Crowned Crane chicks are highly susceptible to predators. They can be preyed on by snakes, birds of prey, and fox. Large adult cranes are not as susceptible to predators because of their large size, aggression, and ability to fly.

 Life Cycle/ Social Structure:  Black Crowned Cranes can live in a location year-round or migrating locally, flocking during the dry non-breeding seasons. Pairs will build circular nest platforms built of grasses or sedges within or along the edges of densely vegetated wetlands. Females will lay 2-5 eggs that take 28-31 days to incubate. Both parents guard the nest. Chicks fledge at 60-100 days. The supposed breeding age of Crowned Cranes is 4 years old.

Interesting Facts:

  • Black Crowned Cranes will engage in dancing which consists of jumping, head pumping, running, bowing, and wing flapping. This can occur at any age and is most commonly thought to be associated with courtship. However, it is generally believed that this is normal part of motor development in order to thwart aggression, relieve tension, and strengthen a pair bond.
  • West African Black Crowned Cranes are recognized as the national bird in Nigeria.
  • Black Crowned Cranes are protected in Kenya because they were believed to get rid of livestock pests and guard water holes and swamps.

Conservation Message:  Habitat loss and degradation are the Crowned Crane’s major threats. This occurs due to natural events such as droughts and fires, and human events such as overgrazing, agriculture, pollution, and industrial construction. The intensification of agriculture has also increased the amount of pesticide use. This can be toxic to cranes if ingested and will also decrease the amount of food available.

Cranes are hunted and sold for their meat in some areas. In West African regions such as Mali, it is an ancient tradition to keep domestic Black Crowned Cranes. International trade of this species has also dramatically increased within the past 30 years.

 What You Can Do: When traveling be very aware of where meat is coming from (Bushmeat), and don’t buy wild animals through the pet trade.