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A photo of a Red-crowned Crane (Grus japonensis)
Red-crowned Crane

Red-crowned Crane

Grus japonensis

The red-crowned crane (Grus japonensis), also known as the Manchurian crane or Japanese crane, is a majestic bird of East Asia and one of the rarest cranes in the world. It is celebrated as a symbol of luck, longevity, and fidelity in various parts of its range. The adult crane is distinguished by a striking patch of red bare skin atop its head, which intensifies in hue during the breeding season. Its plumage is predominantly snow white, save for the black wing secondaries that give the illusion of a black tail when the bird is at rest. Males feature black on the cheeks, throat, and neck, while females exhibit a pearly gray in these areas. The bill is an olive green to greenish horn color, legs are slate to grayish black, and the iris is dark brown.

Identification Tips

Adult red-crowned cranes are large, standing at about 150 to 158 cm tall, with a wingspan ranging from 220 to 250 cm. They weigh between 4.8 to 10.5 kg, with males typically larger and heavier than females. Juveniles display a mix of white and tawny, cinnamon brown, and rusty or grayish feathers, with a grayish to coffee brown neck collar and dull black and brown secondaries.


The red-crowned crane breeds in wetlands, marshes, and rivers of Siberia, Northeast China, and occasionally in northeastern Mongolia. The species nests in areas with flat terrain, access to wetland habitat, and tall grasses.


During spring and summer, migratory populations breed in Siberia, Northeast China, and sometimes in northeastern Mongolia. Come fall, they migrate to the Korean Peninsula and east-central China to winter. A resident population exists in eastern Hokkaidō, Japan.


Red-crowned cranes are known for their elaborate courtship dances, which involve synchronized movements and duets between mates. They are monogamous and believed to mate for life, with pair bonds remaining stable both within and between years. The species is also territorial during the breeding season.

Song & Calls

The red-crowned crane's call is a resonant, trumpet-like sound. Duets between pairs are complex and serve various functions, including territorial advertisement and pair bond reinforcement.


Breeding occurs primarily in April and early May. Nests are built by both sexes, often on wet ground or shallow water. A majority of nests contain two eggs, with both parents sharing incubation duties for at least 30 days. Chicks are tended by both parents and fledge around 95 days after hatching.

Similar Species

The red-crowned crane can be confused with the similar-looking white-naped crane, but the latter has more vegetation in its diet and is smaller in size.

Diet and Feeding

An omnivorous bird, the red-crowned crane's diet includes rice, various plants, fish, amphibians, snails, crabs, dragonflies, small reptiles, shrimp, and small birds. They forage by jabbing their beaks into the mud or striking rapidly at slippery prey.

Conservation status

The red-crowned crane is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN. The species faces threats from habitat loss and fragmentation, human disturbances, poisoning, and poaching. Conservation efforts include habitat protection and international cooperation among countries within the crane's range.

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Red-crowned Crane Fun Facts

Did you know?
The Red-crowned Crane is the national bird of China

Red-crowned Cranes on Birda

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