The Siberian Crane is a very rare species of crane, it is a tall and slender white bird that breeds only in two places in northern Russia, and travels to China or India for the winter. During the 20th century, their population dropped dramatically, and now the Siberian Cranes need human help to survive – there are programs for their conservation and breeding in Russia and other countries.
Origin view and description
Birds evolved from archosaurs, about 160 million years ago. Few intermediate forms have survived to trace early evolution, but the oldest birds retained signs that unite them with lizards. Over the course of millions of years, they have evolved and their species diversity has increased.
Of modern birds, the crane-like order, which includes the Siberian Cranes, is one of the earliest. Researchers consider it very likely that they appeared even before the catastrophe that happened about 65 million years ago and provoked a mass extinction, during which many species, including dinosaurs, disappeared.
Video: Siberian Crane
The crane family included in the detachment was formed later, already in the Eocene, that is, also quite a long time ago. Scientists believe that this happened in America, and from there the cranes settled on other continents. Gradually, along with the expansion of the range, more and more new species appeared, including the Siberian Cranes.
Their scientific description was made by the German scientist P. Pallas in 1773, they received the species name Grus leucogeranus and was included in the genus cranes. At the time when the description was made, the Siberian Cranes were distributed much more widely, almost throughout the entire north of Russia, now their range and population have decreased.
Appearance and Features
This is a large bird, much larger than the common crane – it reaches a height of 1.4 meters and has a wingspan of over 2 meters. Its mass is usually 6-10 kilograms. The color is white, the tips of the wings are black. Juveniles may have a brown-red color, or white, but with red patches.
The front of the head is not feathered, it is covered with red skin, of the same color and legs that stand out in length. The beak is also red and very long – more than any other species of cranes, its end is serrated, like a saw. Young animals can also be distinguished by the fact that the skin on their head is lighter, yellow or orange.
The cornea of the eyes is either pale yellow or has a reddish tint. Chicks have blue eyes. Males and females do not differ much from each other, except that the first ones are somewhat larger, and their beak is longer.
Interesting fact: When a flock of cranes leaves for the winter, it always lines up in a wedge. There are two versions of why they fly in a wedge. According to the first, the birds simply follow the leader, and such a figure turns out by itself. But it does not explain why only large birds in flight form such figures, while small ones fly randomly.
Therefore, the second version is more convincing: that it is easier for cranes to fly, since they are not interfered with by air currents formed by other members of the flock. From small birds, such currents are hardly noticeable, therefore they do not need to line up in a wedge.
Where does the Siberian Crane live?
This is a migratory bird, overcoming during seasonal migration about 6,000 – 7,000 kilometers, therefore territories are allocated for nesting and wintering. The Siberian Cranes nest in the north of Russia, there are two separate populations of them: western (Ob) and eastern (Yakut).
They nest in:
- Arkhangelsk region;
- in the north of Yakutia between the Yana and Indigirka rivers.
The first three territories of their list are inhabited by the western population, in Yakutia by the eastern one. In winter, cranes from the Yakut population fly to the Yangtze River valley – it is much warmer there, but it is crowded, not so free and spacious, and the Siberian Cranes love peace. It is during wintering that many adult cranes die.
The Siberian Cranes from the Ob population also have different wintering places: some fly to northern Iran, to the Caspian Sea, the other to India – there they have created quite comfortable conditions, for their protection on the land where they always fly, the Keoladeo Nature Reserve has been created.
In the north, they prefer to live in a moist flat tundra and in the northern part of the taiga – along the banks of reservoirs, in uninhabited wilderness. Their whole life is strongly connected with water, even the very structure of their legs and beak suggests that they are semi-aquatic birds.
They arrive at nesting sites in May – by this time the real spring is just beginning in the north. For nesting, the so-called lays are chosen – depressions filled with water near water bodies, around which only small bushes grow – the view for many meters around is very good, which is important for the safety of the nest.
The territory for nesting by Siberian Cranes from year to year the same year is chosen, but a new nest is directly arranged, and may be located at a small distance from the past. It is constructed by Siberian Cranes from leaves and grass stems, and a recess is made on top. For the most part, the nest remains submerged.
Now you know where the Siberian Crane lives. Let's see what he eats.
What does the Siberian Crane eat?
Being in the north, they eat a lot of animal food, on their menu:
- small birds, chicks and eggs.
Although cranes are not associated with fierce predators, they can be very aggressive and tend to destroy the nests of smaller birds – they love to eat eggs and chicks, and if the parents protect the nests, they can kill and eat them too.
They are able to very deftly snatch fish out of the water with their beak – they attack it so quickly that it does not have time to do anything. The danger from the Siberian Cranes also threatens other living creatures living in the water, for example, frogs and insects. They prey on rodents living near water bodies, such as lemmings.
Although animal food is preferable for them in summer, they still mostly eat vegetable food, since they do not devote much time to hunting. The main source of their nutrition is the grass growing in the water – cotton grass, sedge and others. Cranes usually eat only the underwater part of the stem, as well as the roots and tubers of some plants. They also love cranberries and other berries.
In winter, in the south, despite a much greater variety of small animals, they switch almost exclusively to plant food: mainly tubers and roots of grass growing in water. They do not leave the reservoirs, if other cranes sometimes cause damage to crops and plantings in the fields nearby, then the Siberian Cranes do not even look at them.
Character and lifestyle features
The entire life of the Siberian Crane takes place in or near water: this bird cannot move away from it except during its migration to the south, and even then for a very short time. They are awake almost around the clock – they need only 2 hours to sleep. All this time they stand on one leg, hiding their head under the wing. The rest of the day the Siberian Cranes are active: looking for food, taking care of chicks, just relaxing in the water. On the one hand, they are aggressive towards small animals, and sometimes relatives. On the other hand, they are shy and very cautious, they specifically try to choose calm, uninhabited places for living.
People are shunned, and even if they see them in the distance, and they do not show obvious aggression and do not approach at all, remaining at a distance of several hundred meters, the Siberian Cranes can leave the nest and never return to it. This happens even if it contains eggs or chicks. To prevent this from happening, it is forbidden to hunt any animals, as well as to fish, near the reservoirs where the Siberian Cranes nest. But even if a helicopter flies over the nest, the birds temporarily leave it, which creates the danger of ruin by predators, and simply cooling does not benefit the eggs.
At the same time, the Siberian Cranes are prone to territoriality and protect their possessions from other predators – in order to be attacked, they just need to be on the ground occupied by the Siberian Crane, and if some animal gets close to the nest, it completely becomes furious. The voice of the Siberian Cranes differs from the voices of other cranes: it is longer and more melodic. They live in nature up to 70 years, of course, if they managed to survive the most dangerous period – the first few years after birth.
Social structure and reproduction
The mating season begins in the spring, immediately after the flight. Siberian Cranes break into pairs formed for more than one season – they remain stable for a long time, often until the death of one of the cranes. When reunited, they sing and arrange joint “dances” – they jump, lean in different directions, flap their wings, and so on. Young Siberian Cranes are looking for a mate for the first time, and for this they also use singing and dancing – males are the active side, they walk around the females they have chosen as partners, coo loudly and melodiously, jump and dance. The female agrees to these courtship or rejects them, and then the male goes to try his luck with the other.
If a pair is formed, then the male and the female together build a nest: it is quite large, so for it you need to drag and trample a lot of grass. The female makes a laying at the beginning of summer – this is one or more often two eggs. If there are two of them, then they are laid and hatched at intervals of several days. The female is engaged in incubation, but the male can replace her for a short time. Its main task is different – it protects the nest from those who want to eat eggs, attacking them on the way. At this time, the Siberian Cranes are especially aggressive, so small animals try to stay away from their nests.
After a month of incubation, the chicks hatch. If there are two of them, then they immediately begin to fight – newborn chicks are very aggressive, and very often such a fight ends in the death of one of them. The one who was born first has much more chances to win. A month later, the aggressiveness of small Siberian Cranes decreases, therefore sometimes their parents simply separate for the first time – one chick is raised by the mother, and the other by the father. And already when they grow up a little, their parents bring them together again – but alas, not all couples guess to do so.
The first week the chicks need to be fed, then they are already able to look for their own food on their own – although they beg for it for a few more weeks, and sometimes the parents still feed them. They learn to fly quite quickly, fully fledge 70-80 days after birth, and in the fall they fly south with their parents. The family is preserved during wintering, the young Siberian Crane finally leaves it only the next spring, after returning to the nesting places – and even then the parents have to drive it away.
Natural enemies of the Siberian Crane
There are no predators for which the Siberian Crane is one of the priority targets in nature. Nevertheless, certain threats to them still exist even in the north: first of all, these are wild reindeer. If their migration occurs at the same time as the incubation of eggs by the Siberian Crane, and this happens quite often, a herd of deer can disturb the crane family.
Sometimes deer completely trample down a nest abandoned by birds in a panic, simply not noticing it. But this is where the threats in the north are almost exhausted: large predators such as bears or wolves are very rarely found in Siberian Crane habitats.
To a lesser extent, but the same applies to many smaller predators that could threaten the chicks and eggs. It happens that nests are still ruined, for example, by other birds or wolverines, but this happens very rarely. As a result, death due to other animals in the north is far from the main factor in the problems with the number of Siberian Cranes.
During wintering, there can be more troubles, both related to predators attacking them – such are found both in China and India, and with food competition from other cranes – for example, the Indian crane. It is larger and if the year turned out to be dry, such competition can destroy the Siberian Crane.
Recently, competition has become stronger in nesting places – it is made up of the sandhill crane, tundra swan and some other birds. But most often, the Siberian Cranes die because of people: despite the prohibitions, they are shot at nesting sites, much more often during flights, they destroy their natural habitat.
Population and species status
There are approximately 2,000 individuals in the eastern population. The western population is much lower, numbering only a few dozen. As a result, the Siberian Cranes are listed both in the international and Russian Red Books, in the countries where these birds winter, they are also taken under protection.
Over the past century, the number of Siberian Cranes has declined catastrophically, so now they are under threat extinction. The problem is also that only 40% of individuals participate in reproduction. Because of this, if the eastern population can still be preserved, then in the case of the western one, apparently, only reintroduction will help.
There are many reasons why Siberian Cranes are on the verge of extinction. If threats are quite rare in nesting places, then during the flight they are often hunted, especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan – the Siberian Cranes are considered a valuable trophy. In the wintering places of birds, the food supply decreases, the reservoirs dry up and are subjected to chemical poisoning.
Cranes, even under ideal conditions, breed very slowly, since usually one chick is hatched, and even that one does not always survive the first year. And if conditions change for the worse, their population drops very quickly – which is exactly what happened.
Interesting fact: Crane dances can be seen not only during courtship, researchers believe that with their help, the Siberian Cranes relieve tension and aggression.
Since the species has the status of endangered, those states in whose territory it lives must provide protection. This is done to varying degrees: in India and China, programs are being implemented to preserve the population; in Russia, in addition, these birds are raised in artificial conditions, trained and introduced into nature. These programs are implemented within the framework of the memorandum, which outlines the necessary measures for the protection of the Siberian Crane, signed in 1994 by 11 countries. Councils of ornithologists from these countries are held regularly, where they discuss what other measures can be taken and how to save this species in nature.
The main part of the Siberian Cranes winters in China, and the problem is that the Yangtze River valley, where they arrive, is densely populated, the land is used for agriculture, and several hydroelectric power stations have been built. All this prevents the cranes from wintering calmly. This is also why the PRC authorities have formed a nature reserve near Poyang Lake, the territory of which is protected. This measure helps to preserve the population of cranes – in recent years it has been noted that during wintering in China they suffer significantly less losses, and it became possible to restore the population. Similar measures were taken in India – the Keoladeo Nature Reserve was established.
In Russia, several reserves have also been created, in addition, since 1979, a nursery has been operating for breeding and subsequent reintroduction of Siberian Cranes. A considerable number of birds were released from him, and the western population was preserved only thanks to his work. There is a similar nursery in the USA; chicks from Russia were transferred to it. There is a practice of removing the second egg from the clutch of the Siberian Cranes and placing it in an incubator. After all, the second chick usually does not survive in natural conditions, but in the nursery it is successfully grown and released into the wild.
Earlier, the mortality rate of released Siberian Cranes was very high due to their poor adaptability – up to 70%. To reduce it, the training program for young Siberian Cranes was improved, and along the route of future migration they are driven in advance with the help of motorized hang gliders as part of the Flight of Hope program. The Siberian Crane is an integral part of the wildlife of our planet, a very beautiful representative of the cranes, which must be preserved. One can only hope that the efforts to breed and reintroduce them, undertaken in Russia, the USA and other countries, will have an effect and allow the population to recover – otherwise they may simply die out.