From its spectacular head; a mosaic blend of a striking golden brown crown resting royally on a patched red base. To the white stout cheek patch, with an eye color ranging from pale grey to pale blue. It is hard to resist the alluring beauty of the Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum). A hard black beak protruding from its forehead punctuates its face. This is for feeding although it also sends a constant reminder to any potential threat to keep at bay. A fiery red wattle on the throat complements its elongated neck giving it a chance to showcase its elegant beauty. Its body plumage is a characteristic grey with a sharp gradient formed by its black and white wings coupled with golden tips.
Birds of the same feathers flock together and when these cranes do so, they fly so high. Grey Crowned Cranes have such enormous wings that enable them to make powerful flights. In reference to these avian gems, Cass van Krah was not wrong when he said, “It’s not enough to have the feathers. You must dare to fly!”
The Grey Crowned-crane is not a neotropical (latitudinal) migratory bird. But it performs local and seasonal movements depending on food resources, nest site availability and rains. Grey Crowned cranes are monogamous usually seen in pairs or families.
Wetlands, open grasslands, Savannah’s and cultivated areas are some of their favourite places for foraging. Their long, slender legs are used to stamp the ground causing disturbance to insects, frogs and lizards which are then eaten as food. At times they studiously trail cattle so as to benefit from the already disturbed prey items.
Ancient societies viewed Grey Crowned Cranes as a symbol of wealth, good fortune and longevity. In the contemporary culture, it is used as a flagship species to protect wetlands as it is a keystone species. Several institutions have also been charmed by its splendour. This explains why it as is used on the emblems of Nairobi County Government, University of Nairobi and Kisii University. It is also Uganda’s National symbol.
Unfortunately, despite being the most abundant species of the African cranes, a decline in its population has occurred due to degradation of their habitat by human developments, hunting, egg-collection and poisoning among others. In fact, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species has listed the Grey Crowned-crane as endangered. This means that if no serious measures are taken to reverse this trend, we might see the cranes pushed closer to extinction.
Words by Eva Bii, National coordinator at Kenya Crane Conservation Forum
Did you know in Kenya’s Lake Ol Bolossat, the only lake in Central Kenya, is home to about 900 Grey Crowned Cranes. Between July and February, the Grey Crowned Cranes flock to this lake for the breeding season. The Lake is listed as an Important Bird Area (IBA) and was recently gazetted as a protected wetland area. Uganda has the largest population of Grey Crowned Cranes. The Crane is also referred to as the Crested Crane.
Featured Image Tony Wild