The flora and fauna of Africa is striking in its diversity, there are many exotic animals, birds that you will not find on other continents, and the crowned crane is a bright representative of them. Many African peoples revere this unusual bird with a “golden crown” on its head, consider it a talisman for the hearth, it is even depicted on the coat of arms of Uganda, being a symbol of the whole country.
Origin view and description
The crowned crane is the graceful king of the true crane family. A distinctive feature of this species is a kind of crown on the head, consisting of many thin golden feathers.
All crowned cranes are conditionally divided into two subspecies depending on the region of their habitat on the African continent:
- the western crowned crane lives in the west of the mainland;
- the eastern subspecies lives in the east.
Their main difference — different arrangement of red and white spots on the cheeks, otherwise they are completely identical.
Video: Crowned crane
This ancient bird species formed 40-60 million years ago during the Eocene, immediately after the end of the dinosaur era. A large number of drawings have been found on the walls of ancient caves depicting these crowned creatures. There are many legends about crowned cranes among the people. Since ancient times, they have settled near humans and, despite the fact that sometimes they attacked crops in times of famine, people have always favorably treated these majestic birds.
Interesting fact: Crowned birds make very specific sounds due to the special structure of the throat. Thanks to their unusual call, they are very easy to distinguish from other representatives of the crane family, even if the flock is at a considerable distance. With its help, individuals orient themselves in the flock during long flights.
Appearance and features
The crowned crane is a large strong bird, the height of which can reach 90-100 cm or more, its wingspan is almost two meters, and its weight is from 4 to 5.5 kg. Sexual dimorphism in these creatures is not pronounced, but females look slightly smaller than males.
Almost the entire body of cranes has a black or dark gray plumage color, and elytra and underwing emit white covering feathers. The small head is adorned with an impressive tuft of stiff golden-yellow feathers — thanks to this feature, the bird got its royal name. In young individuals, the plumage is lighter than in mature individuals: the ends of the feathers on the upper body are reddish, and sand below. The neck of the young is brown, the forehead is yellow.
The beak of the bird is black, small, slightly flattened. Under the chin, all individuals, regardless of gender, have a red throat pouch, similar to that of turkeys and roosters, but the crane can inflate it.
The cheeks of birds are decorated with bright red and white spots, a pair on each side :
- in the eastern subspecies, red is located above white;
- in the West African, on the contrary — white spot higher than red.
Legs are black, rather strong. The crowned crane has another feature that distinguishes it from its relatives – the bird has a long hind toe on its leg.
Interesting fact: “crowned” birds can take off to a height of up to 10,000 meters .
Where does the crowned crane live?
This type of crane lives:
- in the savannahs south of the Sahara Desert;
- Ethiopia, Burundi, Sudan, Uganda;
- inhabits eastern Africa.
It takes root well in arid areas, but more often it can be found near lakes, in swamps with fresh water, and wet meadows. Crowned cranes also settle in fields with crops of rice and other agricultural crops, which require a large amount of moisture. They are found on abandoned lands near streams.
The crowned crane is not at all afraid of people, quite often it settles near farms and human habitation. For a night’s rest chooses thickets of acacia. All their lives, crowned cranes are tied to one place, which they can sometimes leave, moving away over long distances, but come back again. During severe droughts, in search of food, they tend to move closer to pastures, farms and human habitation. The crane takes root well in artificial conditions, which makes it a desirable bird for all zoos, including private ones.
The nesting area of these cranes is from 10 to 40 hectares, which is considered a relatively small area for this species, but it is jealously guarded from other birds. Birds place their nests near the water, sometimes even in the water among dense thickets.
Now you know where the crowned crane is found. Let’s see what he eats.
What does the Crowned Crane eat?
Crowned cranes eat almost everything, they absorb food of animal and vegetable origin with the same appetite.
The basis of their menu can be:
- seeds, plant shoots, roots, sometimes even cereals from agricultural fields;
- various insects, fish, frogs, lizards, mice, other small invertebrates and vertebrates.
During the dry season, birds rush to the herds of large-horned animals, where you can find in abundance various invertebrates disturbed by livestock. Due to their omnivorous nature, they rarely experience hunger and are always able to feed their offspring.
In the conditions of open-air cages, there are also no difficulties with their nutrition. The diet in the zoo, as in nature, is mixed. Plant foods include wheat, millet, barley, and all legumes. In addition, birds get a lot of different vegetables. Meat, fish, hamarus, cottage cheese and mice make up the animal part of the feed. On average, one adult requires up to 1 kilogram of two types of feed daily.
Interesting fact: This species of bird is the only one of the large crane family that, thanks to an extra long toe, can perch in trees — it is on their branches that they spend the night. Most often, for this they choose dense thickets of acacias, less often other types of trees.
Character and lifestyle features
The crowned bird prefers a sedentary lifestyle. However, it can roam depending on the season without crossing the boundaries of its natural habitat. Seasonal and daily migrations can reach several tens of kilometers in length. It is active during the daytime, but at night it prefers to rest in the canopy of trees.
Cranes gather in large flocks, actively interacting with each other. Even during migrations, adults communicate through specific throat sounds, which contributes to better coordination of the actions of each member of the pack. Only with the onset of the rainy season, they break into pairs for procreation and protect their territory from their other relatives, as well as geese and ducks. If the year turned out to be unfavorable due to weather conditions, then pairs of crowned cranes may not leave the flock at all and wait for more favorable conditions for hatching eggs.
An interesting fact: In the wild, crowned cranes live on average up to 20-30 years, in an aviary, with proper nutrition and proper care, some individuals cross the fifty-year mark, for which they are often called long-livers compared to other inhabitants of zoos.
Social structure and reproduction
The puberty of crowned cranes occurs by the age of three. During the mating season, and it falls during the rainy season, adults begin to beautifully look after each other and a kind of dance is one of the ways to flirt. During the dance, the birds try to attract the maximum attention of a potential partner. Cranes throw grass high up, jump and flap their wings. In addition, males can sing, for this they inflate their throat bag and make trumpet sounds. During the performance, the singer tilts his head with a golden crown forward, and then sharply throws it back.
Having chosen a couple for themselves, the birds begin to build a nest. Usually they use sedge or other grass for this purpose. They place their nests mainly on the banks of the reservoir, among thickets right on the water, where the female lays from 2 to 5 eggs, depending on the age of the bird. The size of the egg can reach 12 cm, have a pink or bluish color.
Cranes incubate eggs for a month, while the male also takes an active part in the process. Within a day after birth, the chicks, whose body is covered with brown fluff, can leave the nest, but after a few days they return again. At this time, the family of cranes moves to the hills to search for food, and when they are satisfied, they again rush to the nesting place. Adult cranes teach their chicks to find food by constantly making different sounds, “explain” the rules of behavior. The young begin to fly after 2-3 months.
Natural enemies of crowned cranes
In the wild, various wild birds and African predators can encroach on their lives. Young individuals are more often attacked, sometimes the offspring die even in the egg before they are born, since there are many who want to feast on them and the parents are powerless to protect them. In some cases, in order to protect themselves from predators, birds can spend the night right on the water.
Listing the enemies of these majestic birds, it is impossible not to notice that the maximum damage to their population is caused not by wild birds and animals, but by man and his activities. Crowned cranes are caught in huge numbers for further placement of an exotic bird in zoo aviaries.
For some African peoples, this creature is considered a symbol of well-being and good luck, so especially wealthy families seek to get it into their personal zoo. In recent years, more and more swamps have been drained, in their place people are actively engaged in agriculture. Cranes disappear due to the destruction of their natural habitat, the violation of favorable conditions for their life.
The active use of various chemical compounds in agriculture to treat fields from pests also has an effect on these birds, since their diet food includes many cereals and rodents living near the fields.
Population and species status
In the natural environment, there are more than 40,000 individuals of crowned cranes, which is quite enough for natural reproduction, but, nevertheless, the status of this species of cranes is considered vulnerable and it is listed in the international Red Book. As mentioned above, the main threat to the population of unusual crowned creatures is the active capture and trade in birds.
They are especially in demand in Mali and several other African countries, where there is still a tradition of keeping these exotic birds at home. Many European and Asian private zoos want to get their hands on a majestic creature with a golden crown. The trade in graceful crowned cranes has intensified in the last three decades.
During their illegal transportation outside the continent, more than half of the individuals die. There is a constant fight against the illegal capture of birds, their marketing chains are being identified, but due to the low standard of living of the population in many African countries and the high cost of crowned cranes on the black market, illegal activities are only gaining momentum. These creatures are not at all afraid of people, so it is very easy to catch it, which further aggravates the situation with the gradual decrease in its population.
Crowned Cranes Conservation
The species of cranes crowned by nature is under international protection. Despite the rather large population, there is a steady downward trend, while the rate of decline is constantly increasing.
There are two directions in which work is underway to preserve the population of crowned cranes for future generations:
- stopping the illegal trade in exotic birds, tougher punishment for this type of criminal activity. The competent authorities of all countries work in close cooperation, because only with this approach can one count on a significant result;
- preservation of the habitual habitat for cranes, that is, swamps with fresh water, flood meadows, which have been actively drained in recent years, and cities have been built in their place, agricultural land has been cultivated.
If you leave the crowned crane alone, to protect from the destructive activities of man, then he is able to very quickly restore his population and transfer the status of his species to the category of stable. Unfortunately, in the weather for easy profit, people do not think about the future of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who, at such a rate of decrease in the population of crowned cranes, will be able to admire them only in zoos or in pictures in zoology textbooks.
Crowned crane — this is a very elegant bird, slightly imposing and stunningly beautiful. She can be called the king of the entire crane family. Their smooth movements and unusual mating dances, which can only be observed in their natural habitat, are mesmerizing. Due to the fact that they are under international protection, there is hope that our distant descendants will also see the unusual dance of these cranes.