Gray crane

The gray crane is a beautiful and mysterious bird. These birds have been loved and revered by people since very ancient times. The proof of this is the rock paintings left by the Pithecanthropes 50-60 thousand years ago. Moreover, similar drawings were found by scientists on all continents. In ancient Egypt, common cranes were called «solar birds» and sacrificed to the gods on special occasions. Today, few people worship them, but in Japan these birds are still held in high esteem.

Origin of the species and description

Photo: Gray Crane

Photo: Gray Crane

The Common Crane (Grus grus) belongs to the «Cranes» family. This is a very spectacular rather large bird, more than a meter high and with a wingspan of up to two meters. Males can weigh up to 6 kg, and females up to 5 kg. There is no sexual dimorphism in birds except for weight and size. Almost all feathers of the Common Crane are gray or bluish-gray, which allows it to successfully camouflage itself from predators in wooded and marshy areas.

Video: Common Crane

The back and tail of the crane are somewhat darker than the color of the main plumage, and the belly and wings are slightly lighter, the wings have the color of the main plumage with black feathers along the edges in the form of a border. Also in black, somewhat rarer — in dark gray, the front part of the bird’s head is painted. The back is usually grey. On the sides of the head are two wide white stripes that start under the eyes and end at the bottom of the neck.

There are practically no feathers in the parietal part of the head of the crane, and the bald skin has a pinkish-reddish color, which looks like a little red riding hood. The bird’s beak is quite light, almost white. The legs are black. Juvenile common cranes are slightly smaller than adults and have rufous tips on their head and neck feathers.

Fun fact: A popular houseplant, the geranium, was named after the common crane.

Appearance and Features

Photo: What a Common Crane looks like

Photo: What a common crane looks like

As already mentioned, females and males practically do not differ from each other. The plumage color in adult birds is predominantly gray, only some areas are painted black or white. The neck of the cranes is long, rather thin, one might say graceful. The parietal part of the bird’s head is bald, which is not a feature of the species, since such a «hat» There are several other species of these birds. The eyes of the cranes are small, set on the sides of the head, dark, almost black, with a red iris.

The main features of the common cranes:

  • there are two clearly visible white stripes that run along the sides to the back of the head and below;
  • height – up to 115 cm;
  • wingspan – up to 200 cm;
  • male weight &# 8212; 6 kg, female weight – 5 kg;
  • beak length – up to 30 cm;
  • in young individuals, the plumage is gray, but with reddishness at the ends;
  • skin on paws painted in dark gray or black;
  • gray plumage, which helps to camouflage among tall grass and shrubs;
  • lifespan – up to 40 years;
  • puberty occurs at the age of 3-6 years;
  • the maximum flight distance per day is up to 800 km;
  • during the molting period (summer), the loss of all flight feathers is characteristic, due to which the birds cannot fly for some time and move only on the ground.

Interesting fact: In nature, common cranes can live from 20-40 years, and in captivity birds live up to 80 years.

Where does it live gray crane?

Photo: Common Crane Bird

Photo: Common Crane Bird

The nesting sites of common cranes are in Europe (northeast) and Asia (north). Birds usually winter in Africa (north), in Pakistan, Korea, India, Vietnam, on the Iberian Peninsula. Birds’ preferences for habitat are highly moistened neighborhoods of swamps, freshwater rivers and lakes. They especially like to settle near alder groves. In search of food, cranes quite often visit pastures and arable lands.

Gray cranes are migratory birds. Twice a year – in autumn and spring, they fly huge distances from nesting places to wintering places and back, which requires large energy costs. For this reason, at the end of summer, cranes in large numbers (up to several thousand individuals) gather in safe places and rest, gaining strength before flying away. Such safe places can be: islands, sandbars, deaf swamps.

In the mornings, the birds gather in a wedge and fly to the feeding places, and in the evenings they still return in the same wedge for the night. During this period, the birds are practically not disturbed by the presence of people in the fields or the presence of various equipment. It was at this time that they can be seen close enough, as well as hear their voices. At the end of August in the northern regions and at the beginning of October — in the south, cranes migrate south. With their wide wings, birds use a flight strategy that catches warm air currents (thermals), allowing them to save strength and energy as much as possible.

The departure of cranes to the south is an interesting sight: the flock suddenly takes off, starts spinning, emitting a cooing, rising higher and higher on the air currents, lining up in a wedge until it completely disappears in the sky.

Now you know where the gray crane lives. Let’s see what it eats.

What does the Common Crane eat?

Photo: Common Crane in Flight

Photo: Common crane in flight

Crane is an omnivore, so their menu is very diverse and depends on the season.

In the spring and summer, it is based on:

  • small vertebrates – frogs, mice, lizards, snakes, fish, chicks;
  • invertebrates – worms, mollusks, crustaceans;
  • fruits of trees and shrubs – berries , nuts, acorns, seeds;
  • shoots, leaves, flowers of marsh plants;
  • insects, as well as their larvae.

In autumn, before leaving for the winter, cranes feed mainly in the fields, where they eat large quantities of agricultural grains and potato tubers left after harvesting. Another favorite «dish» cranes during this period are seedlings of winter wheat. Thus, such a high-calorie autumn menu helps the cranes gain strength and energy before a long flight.

If there are fields sown with cereals near the habitats of cranes, then the birds will try to feed there, even posing a considerable threat to the crop. For example, in Ethiopia, periodic raids of common cranes on newly sown fields are almost a national disaster. Especially when you consider the fact that there are not so many lands suitable for agriculture (Africa after all), and the standard of living in this country is relatively low.

Character features and lifestyle

Photo: Common Crane from the Red Book

Photo: Common Crane from the Red Book

Cranes prefer to live and nest in swampy areas or on swampy shores of lakes and rivers. Occasionally, a crane nest can be found near a wheat field, especially if there is some kind of reservoir nearby. The main condition for the nesting site is that it must be well protected.

The nesting period begins quite early – as early as the end of March. Pairs of birds, having barely arrived and rested, begin to build a nest. Cranes can also return to their old nest if it is left intact. The distance between nests is strictly observed. They can be located from each other within a radius of at least 1 km, or even more. Common cranes usually choose places for nests on hills covered with dense vegetation.

Every year, after hatching eggs and feeding chicks, molting begins in adults. During this period, birds are not able to fly, because they lose all their flight feathers. At the time of molting, for safety reasons, they try to go to hard-to-reach places. The main plumage of birds resumes even before the onset of cold weather, and the small plumage continues to grow gradually, even in winter. Young cranes molt differently: their plumage changes partially within two years. In their third year of life, they fledge as adults.

An interesting feature of common cranes is their voices. They are loud trumpet sounds that can be heard within a radius of more than 2 km. With the help of these sounds (cooing) cranes communicate with each other, warn relatives about danger, invite their partner during the mating season.

Social structure and reproduction

Photo: Common crane family

Photo: Common crane family

Gray cranes are birds that prefer monogamous relationships. Couples form for life and break up only after the death of one of the partners. Moreover, cranes are looking for a mate while still in wintering grounds. Bird nests are usually built on small, densely overgrown hills next to water bodies. Material for building a nest: moss, peat, dry branches. The nest is a round, shallow bowl up to a meter in diameter.

After mating games accompanied by songs and mating, the female lays 1 to 3 eggs in the nest. This usually happens in mid-May. The incubation period usually lasts 30-35 days. Both females and males incubate the eggs. While one parent flies off to eat and clean feathers, the second one sits inseparably on the nest.

Interesting fact: During the brooding period, for the purpose of camouflage and protection from predators, common cranes cover their feathers with mud and silt.

Chicks, as a rule, hatch with a difference of a couple of days. They develop in a semi-brood type. This means that as soon as both chicks dry out and can walk, they immediately leave the nest and follow adults everywhere. Parents find food and immediately feed it to babies following on their heels.

Immediately after birth, the chicks of common cranes are covered with thick light gray down, which will change to feathers in a couple of months. As soon as the chicks grow feathers, they are immediately able to fly and feed on their own.

Natural enemies of common cranes

Photo: Gray Cranes

Photo: Gray Cranes

Adult common cranes have few natural enemies, as they are rather large, cautious, well-flying birds. At any, even the smallest threat, the cranes begin to scream, notifying their relatives and rise into the sky, where they feel safe. If any predator is near the nest, then one of the parents diligently tries to take him away, imitating the wounded one.

However, laying eggs and fledglings are always in very great danger. Ravens, eagles, hawks, golden eagles, foxes, wild boars, wolves, marsh harriers, and raccoon dogs can destroy nests and hunt chicks. Also, a large number of cranes can be threatened by people, as birds often encroach on newly sown fields, eating young, barely hatched sprouts of crops. In the middle lane this is not a problem — there is enough other food in the vicinity, both animal and vegetable.

In Africa, with its arid hot climate, there is much less live food. Therefore, common cranes often raid farmers’ lands, which is most relevant for Ethiopia, since a lot of common cranes fly to this region for wintering. Farmers, seeing entire flocks of cranes in their fields and trying to protect their crops, simply shoot them in large numbers, despite the fact that it is technically prohibited.

Population and species status

Photo: What a common crane looks like

Photo: What a common crane looks like

On Today, the population of common cranes in the world has a little more than 250 thousand individuals. Most of it prefers to nest in the camps of Scandinavia and Russia.

One of the main reasons for the decline in numbers is the narrowing of the boundaries of the natural habitat, which is associated with human activities (draining of swamps, construction of dams, large-scale logging, unauthorized shooting).

In total, the number of common cranes has sharply decreased by 60- 70 years of the last century, and links with almost global land reclamation carried out in the republics of the former USSR in pursuit of the expansion of fertile agricultural land and the desire of the country’s leadership to fulfill the sometimes impossible requirements of a planned economy.

The Common Crane is listed in the Red Book of Ukraine, the Red Book of Belarus, and the Red Book of the Saratov Region (Russia), under the protected status «A small species with a relatively stable population and a limited range».

Cranes regularly arrive in the Saratov region for the purpose of nesting and breeding chicks. During this period, very numerous flocks of these birds are observed throughout the region. The number of common cranes nesting in protected regions fluctuates over the years, but in general remains practically unchanged, that is, it does not increase, but does not decrease either.

Crane Conservation

Photo: Common Crane from the Red Book

Photo: Common Crane from the Red Book

As mentioned above, the population of the common crane on a global scale, although slowly, is declining. This problem is especially urgent in the countries of Europe, the European part of the Russian Federation, in Central Asia, where swamps and small rivers dry up and, due to the violation of the ecological balance, dry up on their own, thereby narrowing the boundaries of territories suitable for life and nesting of these birds.

In most countries that include the range of common cranes, hunting for these birds is prohibited by law. However, in Israel and Ethiopia, farmers are very unhappy with this state of affairs, whose fields are periodically raided by cranes for the purpose of feeding.

The International Crane Foundation is trying to resolve this issue in a way that will satisfy everyone. The common crane is on the special list of CITES (World Conservation Union) and has the status of a species whose transportation and sale is strictly prohibited without special permission.

Showing concern for the increase in the number of common cranes, all international environmental organizations have taken birds under their protection by concluding among themselves «Agreements on the conservation of migratory waterfowl», and also included this species in the International Red Book.

In the days of Ancient Greece, the gray crane was a constant companion of many gods, for example Apollo, Hermes, Demeter. The ancient Greeks considered these birds to be messengers of spring and light, a symbol of the mind and vigilance. The ancient Greek poet Homer was sure that the cranes, flying south in winter, eat dwarf pygmies there.

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