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< > Balearica regulorum - Grey crowned-crane (Click photographs/illustrations: full picture & further details)

Grey crowned crane Balearica regulorum. Click here for full-page view with caption Head of Grey crowned crane Balearica regulorum. Click here for full-page view with caption Head of Grey crowned crane Balearica regulorum. Click here for full-page view with caption Pair of Grey crowned cranes, Balearica regulorum. Click here for full-page view with caption Grey crowned crane Balearica regulorum. Click here for full-page view with caption Grey crowned crane Balearica regulorum showing wings. Click here for full-page view with caption Crowned crane perching at a height. Click here for full-page view with caption. Head of grey crowned crane. Click here for full-page view with caption. Grey crowned crane distribution map. Click here for full-page view with caption. Crowned cranes Balearica spp. distribution map. Click here for full-page view with caption.










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General and References

Alternative Names (Synonyms)

  • Grey crowned crane
  • Grey-necked crowned crane
  • Blue-necked crowned crane (B97)
  • East African crowned crane (Balearica regulorum gibbiceps)
  • South African crowned crane (Balearica regulorum regulorum)
  • Blue-necked crowned crane. (B97)
  • Blue-necked/Royal crane
  • Grue royale (French)
  • Grue couronée grise (French) (B97)
  • Grulla Coronada Cuelligris (Spanish)
  • Südafrikanischer Kronenkranich (German)
  • Grijsnekkraan (Dutch). (B97)
  • The Cape crowned crane (B474)
  • The Crowned African crane (B474)
  • L'Oiseau Royal Mâle (B474)
  • de Kroonkraan van Zuid-Afrika (Dutch) (B474)
  • la Grue couronée du Cap (B474)
  • der Konigskranich (German) (B474)
  • Südlicher Kronenkranich (German) (B97)
  • Mahém (in South Africa) (B474)
  • Anthropoides regulorum (B474, B483.w2)
  • Grus regulorum (B474)
  • Grus pavonina (B474)
  • Ardea pavonina (B474)
  • Balearica pavonina (B474)
  • Balearica chrysopelargus (B474)
  • Balearica gibbericeps (B474)
  • Baleraica gibberifrons (B474)
  • Ardea chrysopelagus (B483.w2)
  • L'Oiseau Royal (B483.w2)
  • Kaffir crane (B483.w2)
  • Crowned Crane (B483.w2)
  • Note: formerly considered conspecific with Balearica pavonina - Black crowned-crane. Differentiated by differences in appearance of the plumage and bare parts, vocalisations and by electrophoresis studies. 

Names for newly-hatched


Names for non-breeding males or other colour-phases


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Species Author

Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)

Major References

B107.w8, B474, B480.15.w15, B481.II.10.w18, B483.w2, B559.2.1.w2b, N1.72.w1, N1.83.w1, W2.Nov2013.w2

Aviculture references:
B97, B115.2.w7, D437, J23.17.w5, P1.1986.w4, P96.1.w1, P108.9.w2, N1.83.w1, N4.8.w2, N1.72.w1, N47.109.w1


(Further Reading)
Click image for full contents list of ELECTRONIC LIBRARY

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TAXA Group (where information has been collated for an entire group on a modular basis)

Parent Group

Specific Needs Group referenced in Management Techniques

  • --

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Aviculture Information


General Information:
  • Cranes are tall birds with a long beak and sharp claws, and can be aggressive. Their ability to injure humans must be considered in enclosure design and handling. (B115.2.w7, B197.9.w9)
  • Most cranes are wetland species, a few being primarily grassland species. They should be given the opportunity to wade and bathe, and to forage and/or dig for food in natural vegetation and soft soil substrates.
  • Good nutrition, with adequate protein and micronutrient levels, is essential for the general health of the cranes and for breeding.
  • Cranes form monogamous pairs and can be extremely territorial, particularly in the breeding season. Therefore it is important to house each pair of adult cranes in a separate enclosure from other cranes, and preferably not directly adjacent to another pair of cranes, particularly of the same species. Visual barriers should be put in place between crane enclosures before the breeding season
  • Care is required when introducing intended mates to each other, to avoid injury to one or both birds; formation of a good pair bond can take time.
  • Cranes are unlikely to breed if they feel insecure, such as in mixed species enclosures with hoofstock, or if there is no part of their enclosure which is free from daily human disturbance.
  • If possible, rotational pens should be provided, such that a pen can be left empty in alternate years, to reduce soil burdens of parasites and pathogenic microorganisms which may otherwise build up to problematic levels; this is particularly important if chicks are to be parent-reared, to avoid overwhelming exposure to e.g. gapeworm very early.

(B115.2.w7, D437, J23.17.w5, P1.1986.w4, P96.1.w1)

Species-specific information:

  • These cranes cope well with northern European climates, but need some shelter in winter; they are more hardy than Balearica pavonina - Black crowned-crane. (B97)
  • If given access to a good sized area natural vegetation e.g. rough grass paddock, these cranes will eat a lot of wild insects. (N1.83.w1)
    • A pair successfully parent-rearing chicks in a large paddock were noted to feed the chicks entirely on natural live food for the first three weeks before starting to bring the chicks to the bowl where processed foods were provided. (N1.83.w1)
  • Parent-reared chicks were noted to be very fond of water and loved to stand in and bathe in water, with bathing noted as early as three days old. (N1.72.w1, N47.109.w1)
  • A pair nested, produced fertile eggs and incubated well in an enclosure of 1.5 acres (1 hectare) shared with waterfowl and a pair of demoiselle cranes. The external fence of 2 m high was designed to be fox proof. The enclosure was landscaped, some trees planted, and about two-thirds of the grass left to grow long (the remainder being mown). Outside the breeding season, the cranes were fed on commercial layers pellets, 16% protein, and wheat; during the breeding season they were given a turkey breeder pellet, 18% protein. The cranes nested in the area of long vegetation, near the fence line. (P108.9.w2)
  • A pair nested in a three acre enclosure shared with Grus antigone - Sarus crane, Balearica pavonina - Black crowned-crane, Grus virgo - Demoiselle crane, white storks, maribou storks and waterfowl. They were fed Mazuri A pellets but also took small amounts of layers pellets (fed to the waterfowl). Two eggs were laid at an interval of 36 hours, they were turquoise-tinged. The nest was described as a pile of loose hedge clippings topped with sticks. They were incubated in a forced air Mayfair incubator at 99 - 101 F, turned five times a day and cooled for 15 minutes daily. Incubation took 27 days, with tapping starting n the 26th day; they were transferred to a hatcher at 99 F and 85% humidity once they started chipping. They were left for 12 hours. Food was first offered at 52 hours - chick crumbs (18% protein) and small pieces of minced beef.; they fed when small pieces of food were picked up and dropped in front of them; they were fed for 25 minutes three times a day. Crooked toes were corrected by taping pieces of plastic straws over the affected toes for 48 hours. They were pinioned at four days. From a week old they were put into an outside pen for 3-4 hours a day if the weather was good. Heat was removed at 20 days and the diet gradually changed to flamingo diet pellets. They were noted to forage, eating the tops of grasses, and clover. They were noted not to be aggressive to each other. At 30 days they were place in a large indoor/outdoor run. (N4.8.w2)
Management Techniques


Bird Husbandry and Management

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External Appearance (Morphology)

Measurement & Weight

Length 100-110 cm. (B107.w8) Wingspan 180-200 cm. (B107.w8) About 3.75 ft. (B483.w2)
Adult weight General 3,000-4,000 g. (B107.w8)
Male --
Female --
Newly-hatched weight --
Growth rate Cranes general: Crane chicks grow rapidly. Growth of the legs is particularly rapid in the first six weeks, with the wings then developing rapidly after this. (B107.w8)

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Adult Bill Male
  • Grey. (B107.w8)
  • Blackish horn colour (B474)
  • Black. (B483.w2)
  • Shorter than in Grus spp., with ovate nostrils. (B483.w2)
Variations (If present) Female: --
Eyes (Iris) Male
  • Pale grey to pale blue. (B107.w8)
  • Greyish white (B474)
  • Light blue. (B483.w2)
Variations (If present) --
Juvenile Bill In chicks, pale buffy brown; basally flesh-colour. (B481.II.10.w18)
Eyes (Iris) Brown. (B107.w8)

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Adult Male
  • Grey. (B107.w8)
  • Blackish horn colour. (B474)
  • Black. (B483.w2)
  • The hind toe (hallux) is long and prehensile (this allows crowned cranes to perch in trees). (B107.w8)
Variations (If present) --
Juvenile Light brownish in chicks. (B481.II.10.w18)

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Adult Male
  • Head: 
    • Crown of yellow feathers. (B107.w8)
    • White cheek patch, red at the top. (B107.w8)
      • In Balearica regulorum gibbericeps there is more red on the cheek patch. (B107.w8) 
    • Throat wattles are present, which are red. 
  • Neck: pale grey. (B107.w8)
  • Their body plumage is loose. (B107.w8)
  • Body and neck plumage long, hackle-shaped, pale slate. (B483.w2) Head has frontal and coronal feathers anterior to the crown smooth and velvety black; crown of wire-like bristles (feather shafts) each about 3.5 inches long, flat, white one side and pale brown the other, twisted throughout its length, and tipped in black. Skin in front of the eyes bare, black. Cheek patch bare, white with red in the upper part, throat wattles up to three inches long, naked red with black bases continuing into a ring of black around the cheek patches. (B483.w2)
  • Wings white, with primaries and secondaries black, tertials dark brownish-red, with some elongated pale golden plumes over these. Underside white with flight feathers black. (B483.w2)
Variations (If present)
  • Grey. (B107.w8)
    • Crown and nape brown. (B107.w8)
    • Body grey to brown. (B107.w8)
  • Upperparts of downy chicks dull cinnamon to brownish, with the rump deeper brown to russet, the neck paler and greyer, and behind thw wings paler, while the underparts are a pale dull greyish buffy or dull brownish white colour with pale cinnamon tips. (B481.II.10.w18)
  • Dusky with brown margins to the feathers; the upper neck is light brown and the wings are white, marginated with fulvous brown. The occipital tuft of pale brown downy feathers is well-developed by the time the chicks are a quarter grown. (B483.w2)
    • An "almost pin-cushion-like" topknot is present by five weeks, developing to a "cut-off shaving brush" and by about three months to a long golden crown. (N1.83.w1)

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Identification Notes

Cranes general: 
  • "Cranes are large to very large birds with long necks and legs, streamlined bodies and long, rounded wings." (B107.w8)
  • Compared to the day-herons, cranes have longer legs and hold their necks straighter. (B107.w8)
  • Compared to egrets, the body is proportionately larger. (B107.w8)
  • Compared to storks, the legs are longer, bodies lighter and bills smaller. (B107.w8)
  • In flight, cranes have their necks straight forwards and their long legs trailing behind, forming a straight line from the bill; in very cold weather the legs may be pulled in against the body. (B107.w8)

Grey-crowned cranes:


  • Melodious, generally low-pitched honks. (B107.w8)

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Newly-hatched Characteristics

  • At hatching the legs are flesh-pink; at 3-4 days the skin becomes a dirty-straw colour, then darkens over the following days. (N28.10.w1)
  • Crane general: The initial down is replaced by a second coat of down; this is replaced by feathers. (B107.w8)

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Detailed Anatomy

  • Unlike other cranes, the Balearica spp. have a short, uncoiled trachea, which barely if at all impresses against the sternum. (B107.w8)
  • The trachea is straight. (B483.w2)
  • Cranes have ten functional primary flight feathers (with a vestigial 11th in most species), and 18-25 secondary flight feathers. (B107.w8)
  • The moult is gradual, so these cranes do not have a prolonged flightless period. (B107.w8)

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Reproductive Season

Time of year Variable, depends on the rains. (B107.w8, B559.2.1.w2b)
  • East Africa, all year, peaking in drier periods. (B107.w8)
  • Southern Africa: in drier areas breeds in the rainy periods, mainly October to April, peaking December to February. (B107.w8); October to May recorded in South Africa. (B480.15.w15)
No. of Clutches
  • Repeated clutches have been reported. (B107.w8)
    • A captive pair laid a second clutch after the first was lost. (N1.83.w1)
    • A captive pair laid second and third clutches following removal of the earlier clutches. (P108.9.w2)
  • If the wetlands are sufficiently flooded, these cranes can renest if they are unsuccessful at chick-rearing. (B559.2.1.w2b)

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Nest placement and structure

  • Solitary nests. (W2.Nov2013.w2)
  • Breeds in or at the edge of wetlands, particularly marshes with 1 m deep water and 1 m emergent vegetation. (W2.Nov2013.w2)
  • Nest in marshes with water which may be only a few centimetres to a meter deep or more, with emergent vegetation reaching at least a metre above the water level; usually in the deepest part of the water and the highest vegetation. (B480.15.w15)
  • Only one pair/nest per marsh in smaller marshes; in large marshes, pairs and their nests are about a mile apart. (B480.15.w15)
  • Nests are placed in or by the edge of wetlands, and very rarely in trees. (B107.w8)
    • Balearica spp. occasionally nest in low trees. (B104)
  • The nest, concealed by the surrounding aquatic vegetation at least 1 m high, is a circular platform of uprooted grasses and sedges, piled up and then flattened. (B107.w8, B559.2.1.w2b, W2.Nov2013.w2)
  • 50.8 x 52.3 to 76 x 86 cm (six nests) with the rim 8-18 cm above water level, although a nest nearly 2 m diameter has been described. (B480.15.w15)

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Egg clutches

No. of Eggs Average 2.5 or higher; the largest of any crane species. (B107.w8, B559.2.1.w2b)
  • Clutch size varies with altitude. (B107.w8, B559.2.1.w2b)
  • Usually two or three eggs - as often three as two. (B480.15.w15)
  • Usually laid over a period of less than a week. (B480.15.w15)
  • 1-4. (B107.w8, B480.15.w15)
  • One pair in captivity laid three clutches, of three, three and four eggs in one season. (P108.9.w2)
Egg Description
  • Bluish-grey, plain, 86 x 59 mm, 123 g. (P91.1.w6) 85.47 x 57.1 mm average (45 eggs). (B480.15.w15) Weight average 149.66 g - highest weight 182 g fresh egg, and 126.1 g at hatching. (B480.15.w15)
  • Variously described by different authors as white with a bluish cast and dull green-tinged brown, with faint red-brown blotches and spots, particularly at the large end. Two eggs measures as 3 7/16 by 2 3/16 inches and 3 9/16 by 2 4/16 inches. (B483.w2)
  • Clear bluish initially but become dirty white with green and brown streaks. (B480.15.w15)

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  • 28-31 days. (B107.w8, B559.2.1.w2b)
  • 29-31 days after the last egg is laid. (B480.15.w15)
  • Incubation begins after the last egg of the clutch has been laid. (B107.w8)
  • Incubation of 27-28 days reported using a broody hen, and 31 days when incubated by the parent cranes. (P108.9.w2)

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  • Synchronous. (B107.w8)
  • Usually hatch within about 24 hours of each other. (B480.15.w15)
  • Chicks are able to stumble from the nest to the water by about 12 hours old. (B480.15.w15)

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  • Variable, 56-100 days. (B107.w8, B559.2.1.w2b)
  • About 9-10 weeks. (B104)

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Sexual Maturity

Males Usually three years, rarely two years old. (B107.w8, B559.2.1.w2b)
Females Usually three years, rarely two years old. (B107.w8, B559.2.1.w2b)

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Feeding Behaviour

  • Forage in grasslands and in cultivated lands. Acquire food with rapid pecks, may uproot plants. (B107.w8)
  • They use their short bills to graze in a manner similar to geese. (B107.w8)
  • Stamp with feet to disturb insects (B107.w8, B481.II.1.w9). Associate with grazing herbivores: prey may be more abundant and may be available when disturbed by the herbivores. (B107.w8)
  • Peck at seeds on the stems and peck at food on the ground, but not seen digging. (B480.15.w15)
  • Initially fed insects beak to beak by the parents, then the parents point out insects to the chicks with the beak, and the chicks learn to pick them up from the ground. (N1.83.w1)

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Parental Behaviour

  • Balearica regulorum specific:
    • Both cranes build the nest, pulling up vegetation with their bills. and tossing this into a pile, then trampling it down, then sitting on it; the mass becomes gradually flattened, with a central depression. Around the nest, vegetation is trampled in a circle 5m across or larger. (B480.15.w15)
    • In a captive pair, both built the nest; a nest was built before any eggs were laid but the cranes did not lay in the nest. Once the first two eggs were laid, the cranes started pulling vegetation (dead grass and straw) in to form a nest. (N1.83.w1)
  • Cranes general: Both male and female build the nest. (B107.w8)
  • Cranes general: A secluded spot in the pair's territory is chosen, and the cranes unison-call there, then walk away from the selected place and toss nesting materials over their shoulders towards it. Returning to the nest site, they pull into the nest material which is within reach, then slowly walk away and toss more material towards the nest, repeating this sequence until sufficient nesting material has been gathered. (B107.w8)
  • Balearica regulorum specific:
  • Both incubate the eggs;
    • The non-incubating bird often stays close to the nest at night, roosting in trees if available, otherwise in shallow water. (B480.15.w15)
    • In captive pairs, both took turns to incubate. (N1.72.w1, N1.83.w1)
  • Cranes general: 
    • Both male and female incubate, changing over several times during the day, but with the female usually incubating during the night. (B107.w8)
    • About every 30-80 minutes, the bird which is incubating will rise and roll the eggs or adjust the nest. (B107.w8)
  • Incubation begins after the last egg of the clutch has been laid. (B107.w8)
  • Balearica regulorum specific:
    • In a captive pair, initially the parents gave insects to the chicks beak to beak, then start to point out insects on the ground using the beak, while vocalising, for the chicks to pick up, as well as still feeding them beak to beak. (N1.83.w1)
    • Return with the chicks to the nest to brood then for at least two weeks. (B480.15.w15)
    • The parents took the chicks back to the nest to brood them every night for the first month. (N1.83.w1)
    • A captive pair were noted to repeatedly pick up food and drop it in front of the chick, while making a quiet vocalisation, to encourage feeding. (N1.72.w1)
  • Cranes general: Adult cranes feed their chicks from soon after hatching. Both male and female bring small items to the chicks, presenting them by holding the food item at the tip of the bill or dropping the food in front of the chicks. (B107.w8)
  • Balearica regulorum specific:
    • A captive pair were noted to take their chicks on quite long walks from an early age, and increasing after about 4-6 weeks of age.  (N1.83.w1)

    • Juveniles remain with their parents to about 10 months of age then are driven away and often form flocks with other similarly-aged birds. (B480.15.w15)

    • A captive pair started driving their previous year's chick away when they started nesting the following year. (N1.72.w1)

  • Cranes general: Adult cranes continue to care for their chicks throughout the pre-fledging period and may bring food to the chick for several months (although chicks also follow their parents to food sources from an early age). Juveniles remain with their parents through the non-breeding periods but leave at the start of the next breeding season or are driven away after the return to the breeding territory. (B107.w8)

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Social Behaviour

  • In drier areas, flocking of these cranes is most marked in the dry seasons. (B107.w8)
  • In South Africa, roost in a group at night during the winter; October to November they separate with pairs taking up territories by early December, while some non-breeding birds remain together. (B480.15.w15)
  • A South African (Transvaal) study found that 1/3 - 1/2 of birds were in pairs during the breeding season but less than 1/10 were in pairs in the winter. (B559.2.1.w2b)
  • In the non-breeding season (late dry/early wet season) flocks of up to 200 birds may be seen in some areas. (B559.2.1.w2b)
  • In Kenya, an average home range of 2,880 hectares and an average breeding territory of 630 hectares has been noted. (B559.2.1.w2b)
  • In the drier parts of the range, during drier periods often flock together, roosting in groups of 20-200 individuals at night. (W2.Nov2013.w2)
  • Territorial while breeding, with the home range size varying depending on food abundance/distribution and suitable nesting sites. (W2.Nov2013.w2)
    • A captive pair were noted to get very territroial and aggressive during the breeding season. (N1.72.w1)
  • Cranes general: 
    • Cranes are gregarious outside the breeding season, but separate for the breeding season. (B107.w8)
    • Juveniles which are not yet paired gather in non-breeding flocks and may be nomadic through the breeding period. (B107.w8)
    • By the end of their second year the young birds may have started to initiate pair bonds. (B107.w8)

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Sexual Behaviour

  • A study in Transvaal, South Africa, found only 10% of cranes were in pairs during the winter, while a third to half were in pairs during the breeding season. (B559.2.1.w2b)
  • Cranes general: Monogamous. Crane pairs stay together all year, and usually remain together until one partner dies. (B107.w8)
  • Cranes general: (B107.w8)
    • Cranes copulate repeatedly, starting several weeks before egg laying.
    • Mating usually occurs before sunrise, but can also occur at other times during daylight hours. 
    • In newly-established pairs, copulation is preceded by long bouts of dancing. Well-established pairs mate without any tension. 
    • The copulatory sequence is initiated by the male or the female. The initiating bird elevates its bill, arches slightly forwards and gives a low, purring call. The mate then shows similar behaviour. 
    • The male bird (usually) circles its mate with exaggerated steps.
    • The female spreads her wings. The male approaches, jumps onto her back with his wings flapping, and crouches.
    • The female elevates her tail, the male lowers his tail, and the cloacae of the two birds meet.
    • The male jumps forward off the female over her head and for a few seconds performs threat displays.
    • Both birds perform a long preening sequence.


  • Balearica spp. (crowned cranes) pairs preen one another's head plumage; this behaviour is not seen in the other cranes. (B107.w8)

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Predation in Wild

A snake was seen trying (and failing) to swallow an egg while the adults were absent. (B480.15.w15)

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Activity Patterns

  • Crowned cranes (both species) sometimes roost in trees; they are the only cranes able to do this. (B104, B107.w8, B559.2.1.w2b)
  • Crowned cranes perch. (B483)
  • Grey crowned cranes roost in trees. (B480.15.w15)

Cranes general:

  • Roosting:
    • In flocks, cranes stand about a "peck distance" apart while roosting.
    • Most of the time they stand on one leg, switching legs several times during the night.
    • The head and neck are tucked onto or under one shoulder.
    • Cranes defecate at regular intervals while roosting.
    • On the roosting site they are still and silent unless disturbed.
    • If there is an unfamiliar sound, or one member of the flock gives an alarm call, all the birds become alert and are ready to fly.


  • At dawn, they wake, stretch, preen and drink.
  • In small groups, they fly to a post-roosting staging area, and preen more; cranes may gather at such a site from several roost sites.
  • Small and then larger groups move from the staging area to a feeding area for the day.
  • Generally, cranes feed for a long time in the early morning, then move to loafing areas.
    • At loafing areas, cranes preen and drink, and also engage in social displays, establishing a pecking order for families, and facilitating pairing of unattached birds.
  • In the middle of very hot days, they may fly, spirally high up on thermals.
  • Later they return to feeding and watering areas and forage.
  • They then move to pre-roosting staging areas before flying to a roost site.
    • On the pre-roost staging areas they may engage in social displays.


  • Cranes general: Diurnal. Outside the breeding season, cranes roost at night and feed during the day. (B107.w8)

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Natural Diet

Adult Diet

  • Omnivorous. Including seed heads of e.g. Cyperus sedges, fresh grass tips, grasshoppers, crickets, locus, cutworms, armyworms, Potamon sp. crabs, frogs and lizards. (B107.w8)
  • A generalist feeder. (B559.2.1.w2b)
  • Generalist: seed heads, agricultural pulses, new tips of grasses, nuts, grains, also insects, crabs and vertebrates such as lizards and frogs. (W2.Nov2013.w2)
  • Grass seeds, insects such as grasshoppers. (B480.15.w15)

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Newly-hatched Diet

Chicks peck at objects which are offered to them from about 12 hours old and start to eat at about 24 hours. Fed on pieces of Potamon sp. crabs at as early as 24 hours. (B480.15.w15)

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Detailed Physiology Notes

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Range and Habitat

Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)


Grey crowned crane distribution map. Click here for full-page view with caption.

  • Native to Angola, Botswana, Burundi, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe. (W2.Dec06.w15, W2.Nov2013.w2)
  • Balearica regulorum gibbericeps (East African crowned crane), from Uganda and Kenya south to northern Zimbabwe and northern Mozambique. (B107.w8)
    • DRC, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, south through Tanzania to Mozambique. (W2.Nov2013.w2)
  • Balearica regulorum regulorum (South African crowned crane), from southern Angola and northern Namibia eastwards through Botswana to Zimbabwe and then southwards to southeastern South Africa. (B107.w8)
    • Mozambique and south through Zimbabwe to South Africa, with small numbers west to Namibia and Angola. (W2.Nov2013.w2)
  • Eastern and southern Africa, "from eastern Zaire, Uganda and Kenya to southeastern South Africa", including Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zaire, Zambia and Zimbabwe. (B559.2.1.w2b)


  • Non-migratory. (B107.w8)
  • Local and seasonal movements are variable, depending on food distribution and abundance, nest sites and rainfall. (B107.w8, W2.Nov2013.w2)
  • In East Africa, tend to be more sedentary, while in the drier parts of its range (e.g. South Africa, Namibia), movements are more extensive. (B107.w8)
  • Non-migratory; local and seasonal movements occur associated with changes in moisture levels and availability of food. (B559.2.1.w2b)
Occasional and Accidental
  • Vagrant to Lesotho. (W2.Dec06.w15, W2.Nov2013.w2)



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"Mixture of wetlands and open grassland or savanna." (B107.w8) 
  • Mixed wetland-grassland habitats are used for both nesting and foraging. (B559.2.1.w2b)
  • In East Africa, often found in habitats such as pastures and grasslands, croplands and irrigated fields, but not on smallholdings or in areas of perennial crops. B559.2.1.w2b
  • In South Africa, found in grassland and savanna areas, using both permanent and temporary wetlands, also found at dams, in fallow fields and croplands, and irrigated areas. (B559.2.1.w2b)
  • The size of the home range and the extent of movements (local and seasonal) depend on food and nest site abundance and distribution: where these are abundant, these cranes have small home ranges and show little local movement, while in drier areas (e.g. in Namibia) more extensive local movements occur. (B559.2.1.w2b)
  • In East Africa, these cranes are now found mainly in human-modified habitats such as pastures, croplands, fallow fields, irrigated areas and ranches, while in South Africa they are found on marshes and vleis in grassland and savanna, as well as on agricultural land. (B107.w8)
  • Wetlands, e.g. marshes, pans, dams with tall emergent vegetation, riverbanks, open riverine woodland, shallow-flooded plains, temporary pools, with adjacent grasslands, croplands, open savanna, pastures, fallow fields. (W2.Nov2013.w2)
    • For foraging, prefers open grasslands with short to medium height vegetation, adjacent to wetlands. (W2.Nov2013.w2)
    • Breeds in or at the edge of wetlands, particularly marshes with 1 m deep water and 1 m emergent vegetation. (W2.Nov2013.w2)
  • These cranes roost in water, in trees or on utility line posts. (B107.w8) 
    • Roost in water in marshes and along rivers, and in trees near water. (W2.Nov2013.w2)
    • Note: of all the cranes, only the two Balearica species can perch and roost in trees. (B107.w8, B559.2.1.w2b)

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Intraspecific variation

This species was formerly considered conspecific with Balearica pavonina - Black crowned-crane. Differentiated by differences in appearance of the plumage and bare parts, vocalisations and by electrophoresis studies. (B107.w8)

There are two subspecies:

  • Balearica regulorum gibbericeps Reichenow, 1892 (East African crowned crane). (B107.w8)
  • Balearica regulorum regulorum (Bennett, 1834) (South African crowned crane). (B107.w8)

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Conservation Status

Wild Population -
  • Endangered A2acd+4acd ver 3.1, published 2012. (W2.Nov2013.w2)

  • Not globally threatened. [1996](B107.w8)

  • CITES II. (B107.w8)

  • The total population is estimated to be 85,000-95,000 birds, making this Africa's most abundant crane. More than 90% are Balearica regulorum gibbericeps. [1996](B107.w8)

  • Surveys in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa indicate a 10% decline from the mid-1980s. [1996](B107.w8)

  • Range contractions have been reported in South Africa, Namibia and Zambia. (B107.w8)

  • Population estimated at 58,000-77,000 individuals (2002), and a large range ("estimated global extent of occurrence of 3,900,000 km²"). (W2.Dec06.w15)

  • Population estimated at 85,000 - 95,000, but declining, with a reduction of more than 15% over the period 1985-1994. (B559.2.1.w2b)

    • Balearica regulorum gibbericeps 75,000 - 85,000. (B559.2.1.w2b)

    • Balearica regulorum regulorum about 10,000. (B559.2.1.w2b)

    • Vulnerable under criteria A2c,d,e. (B559.2.1.w2b)

      • Balearica regulorum gibbericeps Vulnerable, under criteria A2c,d,e. (B559.2.1.w2b)

      • Balearica regulorum gibbericeps Endangered, under criteria A1a,b,c,d,e. (B559.2.1.w2b)

    • CITES Appendix II. (B559.2.1.w2b)

  • Endangered A2acd+4acd ver 3.1, published 2012 (compared with Least Concern, 2004 and 2008, and Vulnerable, 2009). In the last three generations (45 years), threats including habitat loss and illegal removal of birds and eggs have resulted in very rapid population declines. (W2.Nov2013.w2)

    • Population in 2004 estimated to be 50,000 - 64,000 individuals and continuing to decline. Largest remaining populations are thought to be (2004 data) in Kenya (17,000 - 20,000 individuals, Uganda (13,0000 - 20,000 individuals), DRC 9maybe 5,000 individuals) and South Africa (4,000 - 5,0000 individuals), with very rapid declines of populations being experienced in e.g. Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Namibia; possibly stable or increasing n South Africa. (W2.Nov2013.w2)


  • Habitat loss and degradation. (B559.2.1.w2b)

  • Loss and deterioration of wetland breeding areas, associated with drainage and overgrazing, also heavy use of pesticides, reduced use of fallowing, high sedimentation rates and dam construction and groundwater extraction leading to changes in hydrology. (B107.w8, B559.2.1.w2b)

    • Good pasture management with moderate grazing pressure maintains the grass seeds cranes need, and livestock flush insects which cranes eat, but overgrazing of wetlands reduces emergent vegetation and removes vegetation cover, disrupting nesting, while heavy grazing also disrupts crane foraging. (B559.2.1.w2b)

  • Live-trapping, trade, egg collecting and hunting. (B107.w8, B559.2.1.w2b)

    • In western Kenya, about 15% of mortality was due to hunting for food, in one study. (B559.2.1.w2b)

    • Capture for both local domestication and live export is extensive in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, representing a serious threat. (B559.2.1.w2b)

  • Conservation is hindered by "general lack of biological knowledge about the species, the low level of public awareness of their conservation needs, and the ineffectiveness of existing laws intended to protect the cranes." (B559.2.1.w2b)

  • Wetland breeding areas lost and degraded due to drought-related changes in land use; drainage; overgrazing. Also pesticide overuse, reduced following, deforestation leading to high sedimentation rates, uncontrolled fires in grass and deep litter during the breeding season, construction of dams for hydroelectric power, groundwater extraction with resultant changes in local hydrological regimes for example unseasonal flooding. (W2.Nov2013.w2)

  • Live-trapping for trade, hunting and egg-collecting; also indirect disturbance by people hunting large mammals or ducks in wetlands, and by fisheries activities. (W2.Nov2013.w2)

    • Illegal captive trade particularly impacting Ugandan, Tanzanian and Rwandan populations, mainly for the pet trade in South Africa, Rwanda and the middle/Far East. (W2.Nov2013.w2)

  • Increasing human population pressure means cranes are living closer to humans, with associated increased disturbance and hunting, plus in some areas persecution  due to foraging on agricultural land. Large numbers poisoned annually in Kenya to retaliate for/prevent crop damage. (W2.Nov2013.w2)

  • In South Africa, much of the grassland/wetland breeding habitat is threatened by increased coal mining. (W2.Nov2013.w2)

  • In Uganda, South Africa and Tanzania, and increasing across the whole range, mortality from collisions with power lines (impact injury and electrocution). (W2.Nov2013.w2)


  • In many areas, local cultural traditions of reverence. (B107.w8)

    • Considered an important symbol or even a sacred bird in some areas, e.g. parts of Kenya, northern Namibia, Zambia, Transkei (South Africa). (B559.2.1.w2b)

  • Community-based wetland conservation projects in Kenya. (B107.w8, B559.2.1.w2b, W2.Nov2013.w2)

  • Wetland conservation programmes in eastern and southern Africa have benefited these cranes. (B559.2.1.w2b)

  • Cranes are used in conservation education projects. (B559.2.1.w2b)

  • Active conservation projects by NGOs in e.g. Kenya, Uganda, South Africa. (B107.w8)

  • Preliminary crane and wetland action plans were drawn up by 13 countries at a workshop in 1993. (B107.w8)

  • No release/reintroduction programmes have been needed. (B107.w8)

  • Variable legal protection. Legal but not always effective protection in Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa. (B559.2.1.w2b)

  • Ramsar Convention signed and ratified by Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, with Tanzania and Namibia moving towards ratification. [July 1995 data] (B559.2.1.w2b)

  • Proposed conservation actions include standardised surveys to assess population size; monitoring of population trends using standardised surveys; monitoring rates of habitat less/degradation; monitoring hunting pressure; using awareness campaigns to discouraging both hunting and irresponsible use of pesticides; improving protection; increasing hunting legislation enforcement. (W2.Nov2013.w2)

General Legislation --
CITES listing Appendix II. (B107.w8)
Red-data book listing
  • Endangered A2acd+4acd ver 3.1, published 2012 (compared with Least Concern, 2004 and 2008, and Vulnerable, 2009). In the last three generations (45 years), threats including habitat loss and illegal removal of birds and eggs have resulted in very rapid population declines. (W2.Nov2013.w2)

    • Population in 2004 estimated to be 50,000 - 64,000 individuals and continuing to decline. Largest remaining populations are thought to be (2004 data) in Kenya (17,000 - 20,000 individuals, Uganda (13,0000 - 20,000 individuals), DRC (maybe 5,000 individuals) and South Africa (4,000 - 5,0000 individuals), with very rapid declines of populations being experienced in e.g. Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Namibia; possibly stable or increasing n South Africa. (W2.Nov2013.w2)

  • (For comparison: Least Concern (assessed 2004), with a large range (estimated global range 3,900,000 km²) and a large population estimated at 58,000-77,000 individuals (2002 data); "Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e., declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern." (W2.Dec06.w15))

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Captive Populations

  • Breed readily in captivity. (B107.w8, B559.2.1.w2b)
  • First European breeding claimed for a presumably brother-sister pair in a private collection in the UK in 1975, with four eggs laid, four chicks hatched and three reared by the parents. [1977](N1.83.w1)
  • Subspecific interbreeding, and interbreeding with Balearica pavonina - Black crowned-crane has occurred. (B559.2.1.w2b)
  • 1993 data: about 1,212 in captivity (not including privately held birds), with 69 identified as Balearica regulorum regulorum and 389 as Balearica regulorum gibbericeps (the remainder were not identified to subspecies). (B559.2.1.w2b)
  • Note: despite the relative ease with which these cranes will breed in captivity, and the ease of hand-rearing chicks (P108.9.w2), the number bred each year is relatively low. This is probably due to many pairs being kept in situations unsuitable for breeding, such as in "African Plains" exhibits with multiple hoofstock. (V.w5)

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Trade in these cranes occurs and capture for export is a significant threat in some areas. (B559.2.1.w2b)

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