Bird Bios: Grey Crowned Crane is One of the Most Unique Avian Species in Africa

August 13, 2012
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The animals found in Africa are often unlike any other creatures in the world, and this goes for birds as well as mammals. The grey crowned crane is a shining example of distinct African birds, as its unusual features make it stand out in the African wetlands and the minds of travelers who see and hear the bird in action.

The grey crowned crane stands at an average of about three feet tall, with a wingspan that is twice as long as the height of the bird. Unlike other large African birds, such as the emu and ostrich, the grey crowned crane is fully capable of flight. On your Kenya and Tanzania safari, be sure to keep your eyes on the skies to catch these large, majestic creatures soaring through the air.

When nesting, the cranes will spend more time alone and with their mating partners, but gather with other cranes to roost in the trees at nightfall. These groups can range from anywhere between 20 and 200 birds, and you may hear them calling to one another. The sounds the cranes make using their gular sac, just beneath the beak, to push out air, is a low-tone honking that is dissimilar from the calls of other crane species. They tilt their heads back against the back of the neck to make these calls.

The most noticeable feature of the grey crowned crane is the pronounced crown of golden feathers protruding from the top of the head. This feature resembles a splayed bundle of dried grass, which helps it blend well with its surroundings. The body and wings of the bird are primarily grey with white highlights. The long light grey neck of the crane offsets the striking black head, with large white patches of the eyes and exposed red skin above the white patches and on the gular sac.

IUCN Redlist reports these birds as being vulnerable, one step away from endangerment, due to a loss of natural habitat. Many grey crowned cranes have adapted to the human presence, but more will need to be done to prevent the population from declining further. You can learn more about these birds by observing them firsthand in their natural habitat.