Balearica regulorum (Grey Crowned crane, Crowned crane) 

Mahem [Afrikaans]; Ihem [Xhosa]; uNohemu [Zulu]; Engwangali [Kwangali]; Lehehemu [South Sotho]; Sekwarhandzana [Tsonga]; Leowang [Tswana]; Grijze kroonkraan [Dutch]; Grue royale [French]; Kronenkranich [German]; Grou-coroado-austral [Portuguese]

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Balearica regulorum (Grey Crowned crane, Crowned crane)  Balearica regulorum (Grey Crowned crane, Crowned crane) 

Grey crowned crane, Birds of Eden. [photo Duncan Robertson ]

Grey crowned crane, Darvill Bird Sanctuary, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ]

The Grey crowned crane occurs from Kenya and Uganda south to southern Africa, where it breeds on marshes and pans, moving into cultivated areas in the non-breeding season. It is omnivorous, feeding on a range of seeds, leaves as well as locusts, grasshoppers, worms and small vertebrates. Its nest is a mound of aquatic vegetation, often placed in shallow water. It lays 2-4 eggs, which are incubated for 29-31 days, by both sexes, sharing the shifts equally. The chicks leave the nest within hours of hatching, staying in the 100 m vicinity of the nest for at least two weeks. They learn to fly when they are 56-100 days old, only becoming independent at least 120 days old.

Distribution and habitat

Occurs from Kenya and Uganda south to southern Africa, where it is uncommon to locally common in northern Namibia, north-eastern Botswana, Zimbabwe, central Mozambique and south-eastern South Africa. It breeds in marshes, pans and dams with fairly tall vegetation; in the non-breeding season, it generally prefers cultivated habitats, often pastures but also fields of maize, wheat, rice, groundnut, cabbage and cotton. It occasionally wanders into grasslands and other dry habitats.

Distribution of Grey crowned crane in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project ( Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Parasites and parasites

  • Parasites
    • Haemoproteus antigonis
    • Haemoproteus balaericae
    • Leucocytozoon grusi

Food 

It is omnivorous, feeding on a range of seeds, leaves as well as locusts, grasshoppers, worms and small vertebrates. It hunts animals by stamping its foot on the ground to disturb them, then plucking them up with its bill. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Plant matter
    • seeds of grasses
      • Cynodon (couch grass)
      • sedges
        • incl. Cyperus
    • leaves
    • fallen grain
  • Animals
    • Invertebrates
      • insects
        • Orthoptera (crickets, locusts and grasshoppers)
        • Lepidoptera
          • cutworms (the larvae of certain types of moths)
          • army worms (the larvae of members of Noctuidae [Owlet Moths])
      • millipedes
      • crabs, especially Potamon.
    • Vertebrates
      • frogs
      • lizards
      • small rodents
      • shrews

Breeding

  • Monogamous, territorial solitary nester, performing an amazing courtship display in which the male and female dance, first bobbing their heads up and down then bowing and leaping 2-3 metres into the air, with wings spread and legs dangling. They often pick up bits vegetation and throw it at their partner in between each leap.
  • Both sexes build the nest, which is a huge mound 1-2 metres wide. It is built with aquatic vegetation collected nearby the nest, and is typically placed in water 8-18, rarely 200 cm deep. It may also build its nest on dry ground just above the water level or in trees, and there are records of it using Secretarybird and Wattled crane nests.
Balearica regulorum (Grey Crowned crane, Crowned crane)  

Grey-crowned crane nest seen from above, Lothair, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ]

 
  • Egg-laying season is highly variable from area to area, although it usually peaks from November-January.
  • It lays 2-4 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for 29-31 days, sharing the shifts equally. The incubating bird is very protective of its eggs, defending them against intruders, such as juvenile Martial eagles, humans, snake and cattle. The adult on duty distracts either distracts the intruder by bobbing its head, jumping and tossing objects into the air, or by attacking it, arching its neck before leaping at the intruder, stabbing  and kicking with its beak.
  • The chicks leave the nest within hours of hatching, staying in the 100 m vicinity of the nest for at least two weeks. They learn to fly when they are 56-100 days old, only becoming independent at at least 120 days old.

Threats

Vulnerable in South Africa, largely due to habitat loss, poisoning, deliberate snaring and hunting by dogs. Its range and abundance have decreased in Zimbabwe, southern Mozambique and in the Eastern Cape, and it is now common only in large protected areas.

References

  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG (eds) 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town. 

 

 

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