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A photo of a Black Crowned Crane (Balearica pavonina)
Black Crowned Crane

Black Crowned Crane

Balearica pavonina

The Black Crowned Crane, Balearica pavonina, is a striking bird adorned with a regal golden crown of bristle-like feathers. This species exhibits a dark slate-grey to black plumage, contrasted by white wing feathers and a distinctive red gular sac beneath its chin. With a length of up to 105 cm and a wingspan ranging from 180 to 200 cm, it is a bird of considerable size. The sexes are similar in appearance, though males are slightly larger.

Identification Tips

To identify the Black Crowned Crane, look for its unique golden crown, each feather spiraled and bicolored with white and brown, tipped in black. Note the red cheek patches, which vary in size between the two subspecies: the West African subspecies has red on the lower half of the cheek patch, while the Sudan subspecies extends the red to the upper half as well. Juveniles are distinguishable by their greyish plumage and brown crowns.


This species thrives in the shallow wetlands of sub-Saharan Africa, particularly during the wet season. It also frequents grasslands and savannas, often near croplands, and is known to roost in trees.


The Black Crowned Crane spans the Sahel and Sudan savanna regions of Africa, from the Senegal Basin and Guinea-Bissau Drainage in the west to the Ethiopian Highlands and South-West Rift Valley in the east. The subspecies Balearica pavonina pavonina is found in the western part of this range, while Balearica pavonina ceciliae is more common in the east, particularly in Sudan.


These cranes are generally resident to wetlands, except during the dry season when they may forage in drier grasslands or croplands. They are known to form large flocks in the dry season, with numbers peaking before the breeding season begins. During breeding, they are typically found in pairs or small groups.

Song & Calls

The vocalizations of the Black Crowned Crane are low-pitched and mellow, often described as a series of "honk" and "ka-wonk ka-wonk ka-wonk" sounds.


Breeding times vary with the subspecies and are influenced by the wet and dry seasons. Nests are circular platforms constructed from grasses and sedges within dense wetlands or their edges. Clutch sizes range from 1 to 3 eggs, with both parents sharing incubation duties over a period of 28 to 31 days. Chicks are precocial and begin foraging with their parents shortly after hatching.

Diet and Feeding

The Black Crowned Crane is an opportunistic feeder, consuming a variety of insects, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, and small reptiles. It also forages in croplands, feeding on grains such as rice, corn, and millet.

Conservation status

The IUCN Red List classifies the Black Crowned Crane as Vulnerable, with an estimated population of 28,000 to 47,000 individuals. Habitat degradation, particularly the loss of wetlands, poses a significant threat to this species, along with hunting and trade pressures.

Similar Species

The Grey Crowned Crane, its sister species, is similar in appearance but can be distinguished by its lighter grey body plumage and the different coloration of its crown feathers.

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Black Crowned Crane Fun Facts

Did you know?
The Black Crowned Crane is the national bird of Nigeria

Black Crowned Cranes on Birda

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