West African Crowned Crane
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Program and General Information
The West-African Black Crowned Crane lives in Western Africa in the savanna and grasslands near water. They forage in wet habitats and nest in trees, being one of only two crane species with this ability.
They are omnivorous and do quite well near croplands as they often follow herds of grazing cattle to pick off disturbed insects from the tall grass.
They are monogamous and mate for life, performing intricate nuptial dances in order to strengthen pair bonds. This dance may include jumping, wing flapping, head pumping, and loud calling and inflation of the gular sac.
They are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and their populations continue to decline due to human activities including agriculture, urbanization, and poaching.
Common Physical Features
Black Crowned Crane average height is 3 ft., but because of their hollow bones they average out at only 8 lbs. Their wingspan can reach up to 6 feet.
Adults have a black body with white wings and wing feathers ranging in color from white to brown to gold. The head is topped with stiff golden feathers, red and white cheek patches, a small red gular sac, black legs, and a short grey bill. The juveniles have blackish feathers with a cinnamon-brown head, no cheek patches, and a spiky, dull crown.
Habitat and Global Range
The Black Crowned Crane is found in eastern African, centered in Senegal and Gambia. There is a large population throughout Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya, which separate populations in Chad and Cameroon.
They are often found in grasslands close to bodies of water to nest, but feed in open savannas and grasslands. They can also be found in pastures, cropland, or fallow fields, as well as vleis, which are shallow, intermittent or seasonal lakes. They often select habitats with trees, because they are one of only two crane species that are able to roost in trees.
Omnivorous: tips of grasses, seeds, insects, small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and seeds from agricultural crops.
Behavior and Life Cycle
Black Crowned Cranes are monogamous and appear to mate for life. During courtship they perform a “nuptial dance” in which both birds bob, bow, and jump around each other while calling and spreading their wings.
Nests are usually constructed near standing water and tall vegetation. This provides cover but allows the crane maximum visibility with only its head showing. Clutch size varies from 2 to 4 light-blue eggs. About 12 hours after hatching they are capable of swimming and floating. They begin eating after 24 hours. They will fledge between 56 to 100 days after hatching, and will reach reproductive maturity at around 3 years of age.
They have long hind toes that allow them to roost in trees. They display mutual preening to support pair bonds outside of the breeding season.
- Black Crowned Cranes were protected by Turkana (Kenya) pastoralists because they were believed to get rid of livestock pests and guarded waterholes and wetlands.
- 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.
- The Black Crowned Crane is the national bird of Nigeria
Black Crowned Cranes are in danger due to habitat loss including desertification, illegal capture for commercial trade, unintentional and intentional poisoning, human disturbance, unsustainable exploitation and conversion of wetlands.
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.
When traveling, be very aware of where meat is coming from and don’t buy wild animals through the pet trade.