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Siberian Crane

Leucogeranus leucogeranus

The Siberian crane, Leucogeranus leucogeranus, also known as the Siberian white crane or the snow crane, is a striking bird from the family Gruidae. Adults are resplendent in snowy white plumage, save for the contrasting black primary feathers visible in flight. The face, fore-crown, and side of the head are bare and exhibit a brick red hue, while the bill is dark and the legs are tinged pinkish. The yellowish iris adds a touch of warmth to their cold-weather visage. Juveniles, on the other hand, are cloaked in dingy brown feathers and have a feathered face.

Identification Tips

This species can be identified by its predominantly white plumage, black wingtips, and red facial skin. The absence of elongated tertial feathers distinguishes it from other cranes. During the breeding season, both sexes may be seen with mud-streaked feathers, a result of their habit of smearing mud on themselves with their beaks. The Siberian crane is a fairly large bird, typically weighing between 4.9–8.6 kg and standing about 140 cm tall, with a wingspan ranging from 210 to 260 cm.

Habitat

Siberian cranes favor shallow marshlands and wetlands, often foraging in deeper waters than their crane cousins. They exhibit high site fidelity, returning to the same breeding and wintering grounds annually.

Distribution

Historically, the Siberian crane's breeding range spanned from the Urals to the Kolyma region in Russia. Today, their breeding areas are limited to two disjunct regions: the western area in the river basins of the Ob, Konda, and Sossva, and a larger population in Yakutia between the Yana and the Alazeya rivers. The western population winters in Iran, while the eastern population winters mainly in the Poyang Lake area in China.

Behaviour

Siberian cranes are territorial during the breeding season, maintaining vast, solitary territories. In winter, they may form small flocks and roost closer together. They are diurnal feeders, often submerging their heads underwater when foraging. Their calls are distinctive, differing from the trumpeting of most cranes, and are a high-pitched whistling sound.

Song & Calls

The call of the Siberian crane is a unique, goose-like high-pitched whistling "toyoya." Their unison calls, particularly the duets between paired males and females, are distinctive and vary across pairs.

Breeding

Breeding occurs in the Arctic tundra, with nests typically situated on the edge of lakes. Clutches usually consist of two eggs, with the female incubating and the male standing guard. Chicks hatch after about 27 to 29 days and fledge in roughly 80 days. However, sibling aggression often means only one chick survives.

Similar Species

The Siberian crane can be confused with other white cranes, but its black primary feathers and red facial skin are distinguishing features.

Diet and Feeding

Omnivorous, the Siberian crane's diet is primarily plant-based, including roots, seeds, and submerged vegetation. They also consume small rodents, earthworms, fish, and occasionally animal prey when vegetation is scarce due to snow cover.

Conservation status

The Siberian crane is classified as Critically Endangered, with a world population estimated at about 3,200 birds as of 2010. The species faces threats from habitat degradation and hunting along migration routes. The Poyang Lake basin, where the majority of the eastern population winters, is under threat from hydrological changes due to the Three Gorges Dam and other water development projects.

Significance in Human Culture

For the Siberian natives, the Yakuts and Yukaghirs, the white crane is a sacred bird, symbolizing the sun, spring, and benevolent celestial spirits known as ajyy.

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Photos

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