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An adult female demoiselle crane sitting on her nest.

Crane, Demoiselle

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Description

Demoiselle cranes are the smallest crane species. Adults have pale bluish-gray body plumage on most of their body, with long darker gray feathers that hang from their neck and breast. They have a distinct set of long white feather plumes that stretch from their eye back behind their head. Males are very slightly larger than females.  Juvenile demoiselle cranes are a fluffy pale ashy-gray with nearly white heads. Demoiselle crane eyes will change from a light orange to a dark crimson red as they age. They have short toes that are adapted for rapid running in their grassland habitats.

Cover photo: Adult female demoiselle crane by Mark Pressler

Classification

Overview
Demoiselle cranes are birds in the gruid, or crane family. There are currently 4 recognized genera of cranes. The largest, Grus, includes the demoiselle crane, the blue crane, and 6 other crane species.
Class
Aves
Order
Gruiformes
Family
Gruidae
Genus
Grus
Species
G. virgo

Key Facts

Conservation Status
Least Concern
Lifespan
Unknown in the wild; ~27 years under human care, records of a few cranes living up to 67 years
Height
~3 ft (~90 cm)
Weight
4.4 – 6.6 lbs (2.0 – 3.0 kg)
Wingspan
4.9 – 5.6 ft (150 – 170 cm)

The IUCN Red List describes the demoiselle crane as a species of Least Concern with a global population of well over a quarter million individuals and increasing.

Social Life
Demoiselle cranes are largely quite gregarious, though they become more solitary during the breeding season. When migrating and shortly before pairing off for breeding and nesting, these cranes congregate in groups of up to 400 and when overwintering, group sizes can swell into the thousands.

Cranes are monogamous—mated pairs will stay together throughout the course of a year and share chick-rearing duties, and will sometimes remain together over many years until one bird dies. Studies on the most extensively studied crane, the sandhill crane, have found that if pairs are continuously unsuccessful in their reproductive efforts, there is a good chance the pair will split, while pairs that successfully raise chicks often stay together.

Like all crane species, demoiselle cranes exhibit extravagant dancing behavior. The dance of the demoiselle crane has been described as more “ballet-like” than other species, with fewer exaggerated jumps and more streamlined movement. This dancing has a variety of functions: in young birds it is likely a form of their physical and behavioral development, in unpaired adult birds it is a form of socialization and pair formation, and in paired birds it may serve to strengthen the pair bond. Within flocks, the excitement of a dance often spreads and results in many birds dancing together.

Habitat and Range
There are six main populations of Demoiselle Cranes occurring in over 47 countries throughout the world. The three eastern populations occurring in eastern Asia, Kazakhstan/central Asia and Kalmykia (between the Black and Caspian Seas) are abundant, numbering in the tens of thousands. There are also three remnant populations occurring near the Black Sea and Turkey.

Demoiselle cranes will migrate to their wintering ranges, which include India and surrounding countries as well as northwestern Africa centered in Sudan. One population of demoiselle cranes, made famous by the Planet Earth documentary series, migrates over the Himalayas from Mongolia to India.

The demoiselle crane lives in a variety of different environments, including desert areas and numerous types of grasslands. When nesting, they prefer patchy areas of vegetation tall enough to conceal them and their nests, yet short enough to allow them look out for predators while incubating their eggs.

Diet
Cranes are largely opportunistic, generalist feeders that will eat a wide range of plant and animal foods. Demoiselle cranes are omnivores, using a relatively short beak compared to their body size to eat seeds, insects, peanuts, beans, other cereal grains, and small mammals.

Predators
Golden eagles will hunt demoiselle cranes during their migration.

Reproduction
Sexual Maturity:  Can be as early as 2 years of age, but more typically is 4 – 8 years
Mating Season:     Spring, usually April or May, but is dependent on the rainy season.
Incubation:            27 – 29 days
No. of Young:        Typically 2 eggs per clutch

Information

Description

Demoiselle cranes are the smallest crane species. Adults have pale bluish-gray body plumage on most of their body, with long darker gray feathers that hang from their neck and breast. They have a distinct set of long white feather plumes that stretch from their eye back behind their head. Males are very slightly larger than females.  Juvenile demoiselle cranes are a fluffy pale ashy-gray with nearly white heads. Demoiselle crane eyes will change from a light orange to a dark crimson red as they age. They have short toes that are adapted for rapid running in their grassland habitats.

Cover photo: Adult female demoiselle crane by Mark Pressler

Classification

Overview
Demoiselle cranes are birds in the gruid, or crane family. There are currently 4 recognized genera of cranes. The largest, Grus, includes the demoiselle crane, the blue crane, and 6 other crane species.
Class
Aves
Order
Gruiformes
Family
Gruidae
Genus
Grus
Species
G. virgo

Key Facts

Conservation Status
Least Concern
Lifespan
Unknown in the wild; ~27 years under human care, records of a few cranes living up to 67 years
Height
~3 ft (~90 cm)
Weight
4.4 – 6.6 lbs (2.0 – 3.0 kg)
Wingspan
4.9 – 5.6 ft (150 – 170 cm)

The IUCN Red List describes the demoiselle crane as a species of Least Concern with a global population of well over a quarter million individuals and increasing.

Social Life
Demoiselle cranes are largely quite gregarious, though they become more solitary during the breeding season. When migrating and shortly before pairing off for breeding and nesting, these cranes congregate in groups of up to 400 and when overwintering, group sizes can swell into the thousands.

Cranes are monogamous—mated pairs will stay together throughout the course of a year and share chick-rearing duties, and will sometimes remain together over many years until one bird dies. Studies on the most extensively studied crane, the sandhill crane, have found that if pairs are continuously unsuccessful in their reproductive efforts, there is a good chance the pair will split, while pairs that successfully raise chicks often stay together.

Like all crane species, demoiselle cranes exhibit extravagant dancing behavior. The dance of the demoiselle crane has been described as more “ballet-like” than other species, with fewer exaggerated jumps and more streamlined movement. This dancing has a variety of functions: in young birds it is likely a form of their physical and behavioral development, in unpaired adult birds it is a form of socialization and pair formation, and in paired birds it may serve to strengthen the pair bond. Within flocks, the excitement of a dance often spreads and results in many birds dancing together.

Habitat and Range
There are six main populations of Demoiselle Cranes occurring in over 47 countries throughout the world. The three eastern populations occurring in eastern Asia, Kazakhstan/central Asia and Kalmykia (between the Black and Caspian Seas) are abundant, numbering in the tens of thousands. There are also three remnant populations occurring near the Black Sea and Turkey.

Demoiselle cranes will migrate to their wintering ranges, which include India and surrounding countries as well as northwestern Africa centered in Sudan. One population of demoiselle cranes, made famous by the Planet Earth documentary series, migrates over the Himalayas from Mongolia to India.

The demoiselle crane lives in a variety of different environments, including desert areas and numerous types of grasslands. When nesting, they prefer patchy areas of vegetation tall enough to conceal them and their nests, yet short enough to allow them look out for predators while incubating their eggs.

Diet
Cranes are largely opportunistic, generalist feeders that will eat a wide range of plant and animal foods. Demoiselle cranes are omnivores, using a relatively short beak compared to their body size to eat seeds, insects, peanuts, beans, other cereal grains, and small mammals.

Predators
Golden eagles will hunt demoiselle cranes during their migration.

Reproduction
Sexual Maturity:  Can be as early as 2 years of age, but more typically is 4 – 8 years
Mating Season:     Spring, usually April or May, but is dependent on the rainy season.
Incubation:            27 – 29 days
No. of Young:        Typically 2 eggs per clutch

A juvenile demoiselle crane

Juvenile female demoiselle crane by Mark Pressler