Grey Crowned Cranes (Balearica regulorum)
aka East African Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum gibbericeps)
Grey Crowned Cranes are very large, 44" (112cm) birds that are possibly the most strikingly beautiful birds in Kenya. The most distinguishable facet is the large gold crown; each feathery strand tipped with black. In front of which is a black velvety cushion sitting on the forehead. Between the crown and black cushion is a red wattle, with another on the throat, named a gular pouch, which inflates prior to calling. White cheeks, pale blue eyes and a slate-black bill with large nostrils complete this picturesque head.
The neck is pearl-grey, with elongated feathers at the base. The body is slate-grey, while the wings are black, white and chestnut, with golden plumes on the upper outer edges. The wingspan can reach 78" (200cm). The tail, legs and long-fingered feet are black. A long hind toe allows these large birds to grip branches in trees, in order to roost. One of only two Crane species able to do so.
A sub-species, the South African (Southern) Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum regulorum), has a more pure white cheek patch.
Grey Crowned Cranes are very gregarious birds, with small flocks of 20-plus birds roosting together. Generally, they are seen in pairs when feeding and always when breeding. When breeding, they are worth studying, to see mutual preening, gazing into each others eyes or breaking into a fabulous display dance, bowing, bobbing and hopping about with wings outstretched. They also make use of their wings, to make themselves appear larger, when confronting predators.
Breeding normally occurs to coincide with the rainy season and therefore, a good food supply.
They mostly nest on the ground, or floating in a shallow pool, but some pairs have be seen nesting in trees. Averages are for a roughly-made grass nest diameter of 28" (70cm), with 3 light blue eggs being laid. Both parents share incubation duties. At this point, these normally gregarious birds are very territorial. A month later, yellow chicks hatch, that can swim at 12 hours old and eat after 24 hours. The chicks turn to a scruffy rufous colour with small crests and pink gular sacs and join a flock of other juveniles at 3 months, before gaining their adult colours at approximately 1 year old. At age 3 they are sexually mature and pair for life, recording a lifespan of up to half a century.
They spend most of their time on the ground, feeding, but when they fly, they do so having first run and then with irregular beats of their wings, in a hunchback way, making use of thermals where possible.
Grey Crowned Cranes are omnivorous, eating both plant and animal matter. The majority of their diet is seeds, dispersing and thereby transplanting some as they move around, but they also eat green shoots, insects, worms, small reptiles, fish, crabs and other amphibians. They will stamp on the ground, to scare insects, especially when they have young. I have also observed them spreading their wings to make shadows, to intimidate frogs and other small reptiles. They also follow herbivores, eating disturbed insects.
The populations of Grey Crowned Crane are endemic to Africa, but only found in East and South Africa, with the largest number found in Kenya. Populations are decreasing, due to habitat loss, use of pesticides and their biggest predators - man and his domestic dogs, who believe this Crane to be responsible for crop damage and in particular, maize. They are now classed as 'Vulnerable'. Seen beside wetlands, swamps, freshwater bodies and farmland. Kenya's Grey Crowned Cranes are to be found above 1,300 metres in west and central areas, as well as a few at coastal areas and Lake Turkana.
Extra Grey Crowned Crane Facts
Grey Crowned Cranes are grey birds with crowns, not birds with grey crowns. The distinction is made, to separate it from the Black Crowned Crane found in West Africa and rarely at Lake Turkana.
Grey Crested Cranes expand the gular pouch on their necks, before creating a honking call if perched, or a series of deep, booming "hu-wonk" sounds from their irregularly shaped wind-pipe. Conversely, they also "purr" when feeding or calling their young.
The Grey Crested Crane is the national emblem of Uganda, featuring on its flag, coat of arms and has become sacred.
Photographed at Kenya's Masai Mara and Nairobi National Park.
Keywords:bird, crane, east african grey crowned crane, grey crowned crane, kenya, wildlife