East African Grey-Crowned Crane


The body of the Grey Crowned Crane is mainly gray. The wings are predominantly white, but contain feathers with colors ranging from white to brown to gold. The head is topped with a crown of stiff golden feathers. Cheek patches are white, and a red gular sack is present under the chin. The gular sack is similar to a wattle, except that it can be inflated. Legs and toes are black. The bill is short and dark gray. All crowned cranes have the ability to perch because their long hind toe (hallux) allows for grasping. The subspecies are most easily distinguished by their facial features. The East African crowned crane has a larger area of bare red skin above the white cheek patch than does the South African crowned crane. Males and females are virtually indistinguishable, although males tend to be slightly larger.

Juveniles are generally grayish, the upper body feathers are edged with rufous, and the lower body feathers are sandy buff. The nape is brown, the face is feathered and buffy, and the crown is spiky and golden buff. Download FREE Grey Crowned Crane images.

The range of the Grey Crowned Crane in eastern and southern Africa stretches from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Kenya to southeastern South Africa. They are non-migratory, but undertake variable local and seasonal movements, and are most abundant in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. The South African subspecies occurs in Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. The East African subspecies occurs in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, northern Zimbabwe, and northern Mozambique, and comprises the majority of the total population. The Grey Crowned Crane is the national bird of Uganda.

Map    Range, Migration and Nesting Map

Habitat & Ecology:

Grey Crowned Cranes require mixed wetland-grassland habitats. They typically nest within or on the edges of wetlands, while foraging in wetlands, nearby grasslands, and croplands. Grey Crowned Cranes begin their unison display in varied ways. The main vocalization is a booming call where the crane will inflate the gular sac underneath its chin and push the air out. This calling is done with the head laid against the top of the neck and then tilted back. The crane also produces peculiar honks that are quite different from the loud, bugling calls of other crane species that have much longer coiled tracheas. All cranes engage in dancing, which includes various behaviors such as head pumping, bowing, jumping, running, stick or grass tossing, and wing flapping. Dancing can occur at any age and is commonly associated with courtship, however, it is generally believed to be a normal part of motor development for cranes and can serve to thwart aggression, relieve tension, and strengthen the pair bond.

Nesting usually occurs in wetlands where the vegetation is of a significant height to conceal the cranes on their nests. Nests consist of uprooted grasses and sedges piled and flattened into a circular platform. Grey Crowned Cranes have the largest average clutch size (2-5) of any cranes. Clutch size can vary with altitude. Incubation is performed by both sexes and lasts 28-31 days. While rearing chicks, adult birds will sometimes hide their young in wetlands in the evening, and then fly to roost in trees. Chicks fledge (first flight) at 56-100 days.

All cranes are omnivorous. Principal foods of the Grey Crowned Crane include tips of grasses, seeds, insects, and other invertebrates, and small vertebrates. They also forage in croplands for groundnuts, soybeans, maize, and millet. The Grey Crowned Crane’s generalist feeding strategy allows the species to adapt to human settlement. Most Grey Crowned Cranes in East Africa live in human modified landscapes.

Although the species remains common over much of its historic range, it faces widespread and increasing threats to its habitat, particularly in the species stronghold of east Africa due to drainage, livestock overgrazing, and heavy pesticide applications. Other threats include hunting and live-trapping.