Grey crowned crane
The crowned cranes are thought to be the most similar of the surviving crane species to ancestral members of the crane family. Their booming calls, which they produce by inflating a sac under the chin, and their peculiar honks, are quite different from the loud bugling calls of other cranes.
Crowned cranes are also the only crane species to roost in trees – a long hind toe helps them to grip on to branches.
Grey crowned cranes use a mixture of wetland and grassland habitats, nesting in tall wetland vegetation where their chicks can be concealed from view. They produce larger clutches than most cranes, with 2–5 eggs per nest. Unlike some other cranes, they do not migrate, though they may move around seasonally.
With a large range covering much of eastern and southern Africa, the grey crowned crane is not currently thought to be at risk of extinction. Omnivorous, it has been able to adapt to human settlement, foraging on crop species as well as native vegetation, invertebrates and small vertebrates.
However, its grassland and wetland habitats are under pressure from drainage, overgrazing and pollution from pesticides, and in recent decades its range and population have decreased sharply.
The national bird of Uganda, the grey crowned crane is considered sacred by many people and community education projects are helping to focus attention on the need to conserve wetlands habitats and develop sustainable alternatives to over-exploitation.
Grey crowned cranes have lived at Durrell’s Jersey headquarters since the 1960s, but did not breed successfully until 1983. Experience with this species will help us if in future we are able to work with its close relative the black crowned crane, which is found further to the north in Africa and is thought to be more threatened.