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Stanley Crane Steve Murdock

Crane, Blue

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Description

Blue cranes are a uniform bluish-gray on their body, neck, and most of their head. They have a white patch on the top of their head and long feather plumes on the sides of their head that they will puff out during displays, giving them a distinct cobra-like appearance. Extremely long, gray-black secondary flight feathers (the large feathers on the wings that are closest to the body) trail behind these birds as they walk, giving the impression of a sizeable “tail”, even though these are not tail feathers. Juveniles are pale grey, and do not yet have these long secondary flight feathers. Blue cranes have short toes that are adapted for rapid running in their grassland habitats. They have no significant sexual dimorphism—both male and females look physically identical, although males may be minimally larger than females.

Classification

Overview
The blue crane is a bird in the gruid, or crane family. There are 15 species in this family. Cranes are found all across the world, in every continent except South America and Antarctica.
Class
Aves
Order
Gruiformes
Family
Gruidae
Genus
Grus
Species
G. paradiseus

Key Facts

Conservation Status
Vulnerable
Lifespan
Insufficient data, anecdotal reports range from ~15 – 50 years
Height
3.6 – 3.9 ft (110 – 120 cm)
Weight
10.8 – 11.7 lbs (4.9 – 5.3 kg)
Wingspan
5.9 – 6.6 ft (180 – 200 cm)

The IUCN Red List describes the blue crane as Vulnerable, with a decreasing population of 17,000 – 30,000 individuals. Most of these cranes live in a few large populations in the Eastern Grasslands, Karoo, and Western Cape regions of South Africa. There is also a small, isolated population in northern Namibia. The biggest threats facing blue cranes in the wild are habitat loss due to agricultural expansion as well as potential mining and gas exploration, collisions with power and telephone lines, and illegal poaching. There are a number of organizations working towards reducing these threats.

For the Western Cape populations, the Overberg Crane Group is working with CapeNature and local landowners to increase awareness that these birds need to be protected, and to prevent any issues that arise.

For populations throughout South Africa but especially in the grassland habitat these cranes prefer, the International Crane Foundation is working together with the Endangered Wildlife Trust on a number of conservation projects for blue cranes. Most blue cranes occur on privately owned land, so this conservation partnership is building relationships with local landowners and farmers to gather important information about blue crane habitat use and find non-lethal methods of protecting crops from cranes, as well as promoting agreements between landowners and the government that they will manage their land with blue cranes’ best interests in mind. This conservation partnership is also working with Eskom, South Africa’s power utility company, to install conspicuous markers on power lines to make them more visible to flying birds. A recent study on this project found that these markers have been successful in reducing power and telephone line collisions for blue cranes. Finally, this conservation partnership has started the African Crane Trade Project, with the goal of reducing the illegal poaching of these birds through increased legislation and active protection of blue crane habitat.

For the small population in Namibia, the Namibia Crane Working Group is working on researching their blue crane population, educating the public on their importance, and conserving the habitat that this population uses.

 

Blue cranes have been assessed as part of the IUCN Red List’s new Green Status initiative, which aims to quantify the past successes and future potential of conservation efforts on the recovery of a species. This 2021 assessment classified blue cranes as Moderately Depleted. This classification is based on the following 4 metrics:

Conservation Legacy: The success of conservation efforts thus far. Blue cranes have a high conservation legacy score—conservation efforts have significantly reduced the decline of this species.

Conservation Dependence: How dependent the species is on conservation efforts currently in place. Blue cranes have a medium conservation dependence score—populations would moderately decline if conservation efforts ceased right now.

Conservation Gain: The expected increase in populations if conservation efforts continue in the short term (the next 10 years). 2 out of 4 blue crane populations are currently considered functional (good!), 1 population is considered viable (ok!), and 1 population is considered present (not great!). Blue cranes have a medium conservation gain score—if conservation efforts continue, it is expected that 3 out of 4 populations will be functional in the next 10 years.

Recovery Potential: The long-term potential of conservation efforts. Blue cranes have a medium recovery potential score—in 100 years, it is possible that blue cranes will be functional in all 4 of their populations, but the population in Namibia will have a difficult road to recovery, with less than 50 individuals currently present.

As of 2022, the blue crane is the only species present at Safari West that has been assessed by the Green Status initiative, but we look forward to seeing a more complete picture of the efforts towards conserving species as more species are assessed using this new framework!

 

Social Life
Blue cranes tend to be highly communal, occurring in flocks of up to 1,000 individuals. When breeding, mated pairs become more solitary and territorial, avoiding other cranes while they nest. 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, blue cranes exhibit extravagant dancing behavior. The courtship dance of blue cranes has been observed lasting up to 4 hours in length. Dancing behavior has a variety of functions for cranes: in young birds it is likely a form of their physical and behavioral development, in unpaired adult birds it is a form of socialization, courtship, 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
Blue cranes are found in eastern and southern South Africa, primarily in dry upland grasslands. There are a few isolated populations in Namibia. Blue cranes are considered non-migratory. They will move varying distances locally depending on the duration and intensity of the rainy season, but do not undertake any cross-continental migrations.

Diet
Cranes are largely opportunistic, generalist feeders that will eat a wide range of plant and animal foods. Blue cranes are omnivores that eat plant material (primarily grass seeds), insects (especially grasshoppers), fish, small reptiles, and small mammals.

Reproduction
Sexual Maturity:  3 – 5 years
Mating Season:    Typically October – December
Incubation:           ~30 – 33 days
No. of Young:       Typically 2 eggs per clutch

Information

Description

Blue cranes are a uniform bluish-gray on their body, neck, and most of their head. They have a white patch on the top of their head and long feather plumes on the sides of their head that they will puff out during displays, giving them a distinct cobra-like appearance. Extremely long, gray-black secondary flight feathers (the large feathers on the wings that are closest to the body) trail behind these birds as they walk, giving the impression of a sizeable “tail”, even though these are not tail feathers. Juveniles are pale grey, and do not yet have these long secondary flight feathers. Blue cranes have short toes that are adapted for rapid running in their grassland habitats. They have no significant sexual dimorphism—both male and females look physically identical, although males may be minimally larger than females.

Classification

Overview
The blue crane is a bird in the gruid, or crane family. There are 15 species in this family. Cranes are found all across the world, in every continent except South America and Antarctica.
Class
Aves
Order
Gruiformes
Family
Gruidae
Genus
Grus
Species
G. paradiseus

Key Facts

Conservation Status
Vulnerable
Lifespan
Insufficient data, anecdotal reports range from ~15 – 50 years
Height
3.6 – 3.9 ft (110 – 120 cm)
Weight
10.8 – 11.7 lbs (4.9 – 5.3 kg)
Wingspan
5.9 – 6.6 ft (180 – 200 cm)

The IUCN Red List describes the blue crane as Vulnerable, with a decreasing population of 17,000 – 30,000 individuals. Most of these cranes live in a few large populations in the Eastern Grasslands, Karoo, and Western Cape regions of South Africa. There is also a small, isolated population in northern Namibia. The biggest threats facing blue cranes in the wild are habitat loss due to agricultural expansion as well as potential mining and gas exploration, collisions with power and telephone lines, and illegal poaching. There are a number of organizations working towards reducing these threats.

For the Western Cape populations, the Overberg Crane Group is working with CapeNature and local landowners to increase awareness that these birds need to be protected, and to prevent any issues that arise.

For populations throughout South Africa but especially in the grassland habitat these cranes prefer, the International Crane Foundation is working together with the Endangered Wildlife Trust on a number of conservation projects for blue cranes. Most blue cranes occur on privately owned land, so this conservation partnership is building relationships with local landowners and farmers to gather important information about blue crane habitat use and find non-lethal methods of protecting crops from cranes, as well as promoting agreements between landowners and the government that they will manage their land with blue cranes’ best interests in mind. This conservation partnership is also working with Eskom, South Africa’s power utility company, to install conspicuous markers on power lines to make them more visible to flying birds. A recent study on this project found that these markers have been successful in reducing power and telephone line collisions for blue cranes. Finally, this conservation partnership has started the African Crane Trade Project, with the goal of reducing the illegal poaching of these birds through increased legislation and active protection of blue crane habitat.

For the small population in Namibia, the Namibia Crane Working Group is working on researching their blue crane population, educating the public on their importance, and conserving the habitat that this population uses.

 

Blue cranes have been assessed as part of the IUCN Red List’s new Green Status initiative, which aims to quantify the past successes and future potential of conservation efforts on the recovery of a species. This 2021 assessment classified blue cranes as Moderately Depleted. This classification is based on the following 4 metrics:

Conservation Legacy: The success of conservation efforts thus far. Blue cranes have a high conservation legacy score—conservation efforts have significantly reduced the decline of this species.

Conservation Dependence: How dependent the species is on conservation efforts currently in place. Blue cranes have a medium conservation dependence score—populations would moderately decline if conservation efforts ceased right now.

Conservation Gain: The expected increase in populations if conservation efforts continue in the short term (the next 10 years). 2 out of 4 blue crane populations are currently considered functional (good!), 1 population is considered viable (ok!), and 1 population is considered present (not great!). Blue cranes have a medium conservation gain score—if conservation efforts continue, it is expected that 3 out of 4 populations will be functional in the next 10 years.

Recovery Potential: The long-term potential of conservation efforts. Blue cranes have a medium recovery potential score—in 100 years, it is possible that blue cranes will be functional in all 4 of their populations, but the population in Namibia will have a difficult road to recovery, with less than 50 individuals currently present.

As of 2022, the blue crane is the only species present at Safari West that has been assessed by the Green Status initiative, but we look forward to seeing a more complete picture of the efforts towards conserving species as more species are assessed using this new framework!

 

Social Life
Blue cranes tend to be highly communal, occurring in flocks of up to 1,000 individuals. When breeding, mated pairs become more solitary and territorial, avoiding other cranes while they nest. 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, blue cranes exhibit extravagant dancing behavior. The courtship dance of blue cranes has been observed lasting up to 4 hours in length. Dancing behavior has a variety of functions for cranes: in young birds it is likely a form of their physical and behavioral development, in unpaired adult birds it is a form of socialization, courtship, 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
Blue cranes are found in eastern and southern South Africa, primarily in dry upland grasslands. There are a few isolated populations in Namibia. Blue cranes are considered non-migratory. They will move varying distances locally depending on the duration and intensity of the rainy season, but do not undertake any cross-continental migrations.

Diet
Cranes are largely opportunistic, generalist feeders that will eat a wide range of plant and animal foods. Blue cranes are omnivores that eat plant material (primarily grass seeds), insects (especially grasshoppers), fish, small reptiles, and small mammals.

Reproduction
Sexual Maturity:  3 – 5 years
Mating Season:    Typically October – December
Incubation:           ~30 – 33 days
No. of Young:       Typically 2 eggs per clutch