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A photo of a Blue Crane (Grus paradisea)
Blue Crane

Blue Crane

Grus paradisea

The blue crane (Grus paradisea), also known as the Stanley crane or paradise crane, stands as a symbol of elegance in the avian world. This species, while tall and ground-dwelling, is relatively small for a crane, measuring between 100 to 120 cm in height, with a wingspan stretching from 180 to 200 cm. The blue crane tips the scales at a modest 3.6 to 6.2 kg. Its plumage is primarily a pale blue-gray, darkening towards the upper head, neck, and nape. A lighter, sometimes whitish hue graces the area from the crown to the lores. The bill presents an ochre to greyish color, occasionally with a pinkish cast. Notably, it boasts elongated wingtip feathers that elegantly trail to the ground. The primaries are a stark black to slate grey, with dark coverts and similarly shaded secondaries. This crane is distinguished by its relatively large head and slender neck. Juveniles share a resemblance to adults but are marked by a lighter tinge and lack the mature long wing plumes.

Identification Tips

When observing the blue crane, look for its distinctive pale blue-gray coloration and the long wingtip feathers that sweep the ground. The bird's large head and thin neck set it apart from other cranes. Juveniles can be identified by their lighter color and the absence of elongated wing plumes.

Habitat

The blue crane favors the dry grassy uplands, often found in pastured grasses of hills, valleys, and plains dotted with occasional trees. During nesting season, they show a preference for areas that provide access to both upland and wetland environments, though their feeding habits are almost exclusively in dry regions.

Distribution

This crane is an altitudinal migrant, typically nesting in grasslands at elevations of 1,300 to 2,000 meters and descending to lower altitudes during winter. The blue crane has a restricted distribution, primarily found in eastern and southern South Africa, with a smaller, isolated population in the Etosha Pan of northern Namibia.

Behaviour

The blue crane exhibits partial sociability, becoming less so during breeding season. A strict hierarchy exists within groups, with larger adult males asserting dominance. While they share their range with other crane species, their interactions remain a mystery. Notably aggressive during nesting season, they will defend their territory against a variety of intruders, including humans.

Breeding

The blue crane's breeding season is marked by a distinct seasonality, with eggs laid between October and March. Courtship involves a captivating dance where the male flings objects into the air and leaps skyward. After selecting a mate, the pair will engage in this dance before mating. Typically, two eggs are laid, incubated by both parents, with the male often taking the night shift. Chicks are precocial, walking within two days and swimming shortly after. They fledge at 3 to 5 months of age but remain under parental care until the following breeding season.

Diet and Feeding

The blue crane forages primarily on the ground, consuming a diet dominated by grasses and sedges. Insects, particularly large grasshoppers, also feature in their diet, along with small animals like crabs, snails, frogs, lizards, and snakes, which are especially important for feeding their young.

Cultural references

The blue crane holds a revered place in the cultures of the Xhosa and Zulu peoples, symbolizing bravery and distinction in battle. It is also the national bird of South Africa, embodying the spirit of the nation and its people.

Conservation status

The blue crane is currently classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN. A sudden population decline began around 1980, with significant losses in several regions. The species faces threats from habitat conversion, human population growth, and both accidental and deliberate poisoning. Conservation efforts include legal protection, research, habitat management, and education, with the support of private landowners being crucial.

Blue Crane Sounds

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Blue Crane Fun Facts

Did you know?
Out of the 15 species of Crane worldwide, Blue Cranes have the most restricted distribution, almost all of which is in South Africa.
Did you know?
The Blue Crane is the national bird of South Africa

Blue Cranes on Birda

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