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A photo of a Wattled Crane (Grus carunculata)
Wattled Crane

Wattled Crane

Grus carunculata

The Wattled Crane (Grus carunculata), a majestic bird, stands as the largest crane in Africa and the second tallest crane species globally. With a stature ranging from 150 to 175 cm, it is also the tallest flying bird native to Africa, surpassed only by the ostrich. The wingspan of this impressive bird stretches between 230 to 260 cm. Adult Wattled Cranes exhibit a striking ashy gray back and wings, with a dark slate gray feathered head above the eyes and crown. The breast, primaries, secondaries, and tail coverts are a deep black, while the upper breast and neck are a pristine white, extending to the face. Notable are the red, featherless skin and wart-like bumps in front of the eyes, as well as the long bills and black legs and toes. The species is monotypic, with no recognized subspecies.

Identification Tips

Males and females are similar in appearance, though males may be slightly larger. Juveniles can be distinguished by their tawny body plumage and less prominent wattles, lacking the bare skin on the face of adults. The long, nearly ground-reaching secondaries and the white wattles, which hang from the upper throat, are key identification features.

Habitat

Wattled Cranes favor inaccessible wetlands, thriving in shallow marshes rich in sedge-based vegetation. They are adapted to environments that provide a mix of water and grassland.

Distribution

This species is found across eastern and southern Africa, with significant populations in Zambia and the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Isolated populations exist in the Ethiopian Highlands, and recent sightings have expanded their known range to Uganda and Angola.

Behaviour

Wattled Cranes exhibit some seasonal movements, often in response to water conditions rather than temperature changes. They can form flocks outside the breeding season, sometimes numbering up to 89 individuals. These cranes are known to associate with lechwe antelopes and spur-winged geese due to shared habitat preferences.

Song & Calls

The vocalizations of the Wattled Crane have not been detailed in the provided content.

Breeding

Breeding commences around April, with nests typically being a simple impression in marsh grass. Clutch size is small, averaging 1.6 eggs, and usually, only one chick survives to hatch. Both parents share incubation duties for about 33 to 36 days, and chicks are fed by both parents, taking turns. Fledging takes between 100 to 150 days, the longest period for any crane species.

Similar Species

The Wattled Crane can be confused with other large waders but is distinguished by its size, unique wattles, and the coloration of its plumage.

Diet and Feeding

Primarily herbivorous, the Wattled Crane feeds on tubers and rhizomes of submerged sedges and water lilies. They also consume aquatic insects and occasionally supplement their diet with snails, amphibians, snakes, grain, and grass seed.

Conservation status

The Wattled Crane is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Threats include habitat destruction, alteration, and degradation, as well as human disturbance, powerline collisions, and illegal collection of eggs, chicks, and adults. It is protected under the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA).

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