Demoiselle crane

The demoiselle crane is the smallest species of crane. This bird is often mentioned in the literature and poetry of North India and Pakistan. Its graceful appearance prompts many comparisons between beautiful women and this crane. The demoiselle crane's head is covered in feathers and lacks the bare red patches of skin that are often found in other crane species.

Origin and Description

Photo: Demoiselle Crane

Photo: Demoiselle Crane

Demoiselle Cranes — migratory birds that breed in Central Europe and Asia and winter mainly in North Africa, India and Pakistan. They are birds of dry pastures (which include the steppe zone and savannah), but they are within reach of water.

The Demoiselle Cranes gather in large flocks in order to migrate. They leave their northern breeding grounds in early autumn and return in the spring. The animals keep large flocks while on wintering grounds, but disperse and exhibit territorial behavior when nesting in the summer. Demoiselle Crane's migration is so long and difficult that many individuals die of starvation or fatigue.

Video: Demoiselle Crane

As a rule, demoiselle cranes prefer to migrate at low altitudes, but some individuals reach altitudes of 4 to 8 km, migrate through the passes of the Himalayan mountains to their wintering grounds in India. These cranes can be found together with the Eurasian cranes in their wintering areas, although in these large concentrations they maintain separate social groups.

During the months of March and April, Demoiselle Crane flies north to nesting sites. A flock during this returning migration ranges from four to ten birds. Moreover, during the entire breeding season, these cranes feed in the company of up to seven individuals.

Appearance and features

Photo: Demoiselle Crane looks like

Photo: Demoiselle Crane looks like

The demoiselle crane is about 90 cm long and weighs 2-3 kg. The neck and head of the bird are mostly black, and long tufts of white feathers are clearly visible behind the eyes. Their voice sounds like a ringing clang, which is higher and more melodious than the voice of an ordinary crane. There is no sexual dimorphism (clear distinction between male and female), but males are slightly larger than females. Young birds are ash gray with a white head. The tufts of feathers behind the eyes are gray and slightly elongated.

Unlike other cranes, demoiselle cranes are less adapted to swamps and prefer to live in areas with low grass vegetation: in savannahs, steppes and semi-deserts at an altitude of up to 3000 m Moreover, they actively search for food and sometimes even nest on arable land and other lands close to water: streams, rivers, shallow lakes or lowlands. This species is listed in the Red Book.

Interesting fact: In zoos, Demoiselle Cranes live for at least 27 years, although some birds live 60 years or even longer (at least three cases have been recorded). The lifespan of the species in the wild is unknown, but it is certainly much shorter.

The Demoiselle Crane has a fully feathered head and does not have the red patches of bare skin that are very common in other Crane species. The adult has a uniform gray body. The wings have black-tipped feathers. The head and neck are black. The front of the neck shows elongated black feathers that hang down to the chest.

On the head, the central crown is grayish white from the forehead to the back crown. White ear tufts extending from the eye to the back of the head, formed by elongated white feathers. The straight beak is relatively short, gray at the base and with a reddish tip. The eyes are orange-red, the paws are black. Short fingers allow the bird to run easily on dry ground.

Fun Fact: Demoiselle Crane makes a hoarse, inexpressive, guttural trumpet-like sound that can be imitated as “krl-krl” or “krl-rl”.

Where does the demoiselle crane live?

Photo: Demoiselle Crane

Photo: Demoiselle Crane

There are 6 main population locations for Demoiselle Crane:

  • a steadily declining population of 70,000 to 100,000 is in East Asia;
  • Central Asia has a steadily growing population of 100,000 individuals;
  • Kalmykia is the third eastern settlement, with between 30,000 and 35,000 individuals, and this figure is currently stable;
  • in North Africa, a population of 50 individuals is declining on the Atlas plateau;
  • a population of 500 individuals near the Black Sea is also declining;
  • a small breeding population of less than 100 individuals exists in Turkey.

Demoiselle crane lives in open bushes and often visits plains, savannahs, steppes and various pastures close to water – streams, lakes or swamps. This species can be found in deserts and semi-deserts if there is water. For wintering, the animal uses sown areas in India and places to sleep in cramped wetlands. On wintering grounds in Africa, it lives in thorny savannah with acacias, grasslands and nearby wetlands.

Demoiselle cranes are a cosmopolitan species found in a wide range of habitats. The demoiselle crane breeds in Central Eurasia, from the Black Sea to Mongolia and northeast China. It winters in the Indian subcontinent and sub-Saharan Africa. Isolated populations are found in Turkey and North Africa (Atlas Mountains). This bird is visible at an altitude of up to 3000 meters in Asia.

Now you know where the Demoiselle Crane lives. Let's see what it eats.

What does Demoiselle Crane eat?

Photo: Demoiselle Crane in Flight

Photo: Demoiselle Cranes in Flight

The Demoiselle Cranes are active during the day. They forage mainly in the morning hours in open meadows and fields, and then stay together for the rest of the day. They feed on seeds, grasses, other plant materials, insects, worms, lizards, and other small animals.

Demoiselle cranes feed on both plant and animal food. The main food includes parts of plants, grains, peanuts, legumes. The demoiselle crane forages slowly, feeding mainly on plant foods, but also feeds on insects in summer, as well as worms, lizards and small vertebrates.

During migration, large flocks make stops in crop areas, for example, at winter quarters in India where they can damage crops. Demoiselle cranes are thus omnivorous, consuming large amounts of plant materials year round and supplementing their diet with other animals.

Deceased cranes can be thought of as:

  • carnivores;
  • insectivores;
  • shellfish eaters;
  • leaf animals;
  • fruit crop eaters.

To be more precise, their diet includes: seeds, leaves, acorns, nuts, berries, fruits, grain waste, small mammals, birds, insects, worms, snails, grasshoppers, beetles, snakes, lizards and rodents.

Peculiarities of character and lifestyle

Photo: Demoiselle Crane in Russia

Photo: Demoiselle Crane in Russia

Demoiselle cranes can be both solitary and social in nature. Besides the basic activities of eating, sleeping, walking, etc., they are solitary when doing brushing, shaking, bathing, scratching, stretching, chafing, and feather dyeing. They are active during the day when they feed, lure, nest, and care for children when the breeding season arrives. In the non-breeding season, they communicate in herds.

At night, demoiselle cranes rest securely on one leg, with their head and neck tucked under or over their shoulder. These cranes — migratory birds that travel long distances from breeding grounds to wintering grounds. From August to September, they gather in flocks of 400 individuals, and then migrate to winter. In March and April, they fly back north to their breeding grounds. The herd on the return migration has only 4 to 10 birds. During the breeding season, they feed with up to seven others.

Like all crane species, the demoiselle crane performs ritualistic and beautiful performances, both in courtship and social behavior. These performances or dances consist of coordinated movements, jumping, running and tossing plant parts into the air. Demoiselle crane dances tend to be more energetic than those of the larger species, and are described as “more ballet-like”, with more theatrical poses.

The Demoiselle Crane migrates and travels through the high mountains of the Himalayas, while other populations cross the wide deserts of the Middle East and North Africa to reach their wintering grounds. Turkey's small population appears to be inactive within its range. Initially, migratory flocks may contain up to 400 birds, but when they arrive in wintering areas, they gather in huge flocks of several thousand individuals.

The Demoiselle Crane, like other bird species, must first run on the ground, to pick up speed and take off. It flies with deep, powerful wing beats and rises high after approaching with dangling legs, spread wings and tail. While migrating over high mountains, it can fly at an altitude of 5000 to 8000 meters.

Social Structure and Reproduction

Photo: Demoiselle Crane Chick

Photo: Demoiselle Crane Chick

The breeding season occurs in April-May and until the end of June in the northern parts of the range. The Demoiselle Crane nests on dry ground, on gravel, in open patches of grass, or in cultivated areas. The pair become aggressive and territorial, and defend their nesting areas. They can lure predators out of the nest with a kind of “broken wing”.

The female lays two eggs at a time on the ground. Some small rocks or vegetation are sometimes collected by adults to provide camouflage and protection, but the nest is always a minimal structure. Incubation lasts about 27-29 days, which are divided between adults. Downy chicks are gray with a pale brownish head and grayish white underneath.

They are fed by both parents and follow adults very soon after hatching to nearby foraging areas. They begin to fly about 55-65 days after hatching, a very short period for large birds. After 10 months they become independent and can start breeding at 4-8 years old. Demoiselle cranes can usually breed once every two years.

Interesting fact: Demoiselle cranes are monogamous, their pair stays with them all their lives.

Birds spend about a month gaining weight to prepare for the autumn migration. Young demoiselle cranes accompany their parents during the autumn migration and stay with them until the first winter.

In captivity, demoiselle cranes have a lifespan of at least 27 years, although there are reports of specific cranes living over 67 years. The lifespan of birds in the wild is currently unknown. Since life in nature is more dangerous, it is assumed that the life of a crane is shorter than that of those living in captivity.

The Demoiselle Crane's Natural Enemies

Photo: Demoiselle Crane

Photo: Demoiselle Crane

Being the smallest of all cranes, Demoiselle Cranes are more vulnerable to predators than other species. They are also hunted in some parts of the world. In places where they damage crops, cranes can be considered pests and can be shot or poisoned by humans.

Little is known about the predators of demoiselle cranes. Little information is available regarding natural enemies of this species other than those species that threaten the breeding territory of these cranes.

The known predators of demoiselle cranes include:

  • bustard;
  • domestic dogs;
  • foxes.

The demoiselle cranes are fierce defenders of their nests, they are able to attack on eagles and bustards, they can chase foxes and dogs. Humans can also be considered predators because, although it is illegal to hunt the species, exceptions are made in resource-poor areas.

Interesting fact: Demoiselle cranes have a variety of communication methods that help them protect themselves from predators, such as various threatening postures, vocalizations, visualization, changes in the bill and claws for more efficient feeding and running, as well as the silver-gray coloration of adults and green-yellow eggs with lavender spots, which are effective for camouflage from enemies.

As versatile omnivores and potential prey, demoiselle cranes interact with many other species. In addition, these cranes are parasite hosts of various nematodes, such as the tracheal red worm or roundworm, which are intestinal parasites. Coccidia are another parasite that infects the intestines and other internal organs of birds such as the heart, liver, kidneys and lungs.

Population and species status

Photo: Demoiselle Crane looks like

Photo: Demoiselle Crane looks like

Currently, the populations of these cranes are not endangered. However, in some parts of their range they are considered crop pests as they damage crops and can be poisoned or killed for this reason. Several protection programs are already in place in some countries to regulate hunting and protect the bird and its habitat.

They are also threatened by wetland drainage and habitat loss and suffer from hunting pressure. Some are killed for sport or food, and there is an illegal animal trade in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Habitat degradation occurs in the steppes throughout the range, as well as on wintering grounds and along migration routes.

Thus, the following threats that affect demoiselle crane populations can be identified:

  • grassland transformation;
  • changes in agricultural land use;
  • water abstraction;
  • urban expansion and land development;
  • afforestation;
  • vegetation changes;
  • pollution;
  • collision with utility lines;
  • human overexploitation;
  • poaching;
  • human trap for domestication and commercial trade;
  • poisoning.

The total number of demoiselle cranes is about 230,000-261,000 individuals. Meanwhile, in Europe the population of this species is estimated between 9,700 and 13,300 pairs (19,400-26,500 mature individuals). There are about 100–10,000 breeding pairs in China, of which 50–1,000 birds are migratory. In general, this species is currently classified as the one that is least threatened, and today its numbers are increasing.

The Demoiselle Crane Conservation

Photo: Demoiselle Crane from the Red Book

Photo: Demoiselle Crane from the Red Book

The future of Demoiselle Cranes is more stable and safer than other crane species. However, measures are being taken to reduce the threats listed above.

Conservation measures that have benefited these cranes so far include:

  • protection;
  • establishment of protected areas;
  • local surveys and studies of migration routes;
  • development of monitoring programs;
  • existence of information sharing.

Government educational programs are currently being developed in the breeding and migratory areas of demoiselle cranes, as well as the development of more specialized educational programs involving hunters in Afghanistan and Pakistan. These programs will create greater public awareness of the species and hopefully ultimately provide greater support for the conservation of Demoiselle Cranes.

“Cranes: Status Review and Conservation Action Plan” reviewed the conservation status of Demoiselle Cranes in six regional populations where demoiselle cranes are located.

Their assessment is as follows:

  • the Atlas population is endangered;
  • the Black Sea population is endangered extinction;
  • Turkish population is at risk of extinction;
  • Kalmyk population – less risk;
  • Kazakhstan/Central Asia population – less risk;
  • East Asian populations are vulnerable.

Cranes in general have always inspired people through art, mythology, legends and artifacts, constantly evoking strong emotional reactions. They also dominated religion and appeared in pictograms, petroglyphs, and pottery. In ancient Egyptian tombs, the demoiselle crane was depicted very often by artists of that time.

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