Crested Crane. Facts About Uganda’s National Bird

The Crested Crane (grey crowned crane) is scientifically known as the Balearica regulorum. It is a very elegant bird with and an ensemble of colors and a very interesting way of life.

There are two subspecies of Grey-crowned cranes. The East African B. r. gibbericeps or commonly known as the crested crane. This lives in east Africa, especially Uganda and Kenya as well as the Eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The other subspecies is called the B. r. regulorum or the South African crowned crane that inhabits the Southern parts of Angola and South Africa.

Uganda’s National Bird

As the national bird of Uganda, the grey crowned crane is highly respected and protected by the law. Even young children know that it is a national symbol that needs to be respected.

In 1893, the then governor of Uganda, Sir Frederick Jackson chose this bird as a symbol on the Union Jack. It was approved by His Majesty George V of England to be inserted on flags flown by the governor of Uganda.

The crested crane continues to be Uganda’s National bird – because of its beauty and humble ways. It appears on all instruments of the state and the national Coat of Arms.

grey crowned crested crane

Related article: Important facts to know about Uganda before your visit

Physical Look

The grey crowned crane is a tall bird that stands at an average of 3 feet tall. That is close to 1 meter in height. The crested crane weighs an average of 3.5 kilograms.

The head of a crested crane has a velvet black forehead, a yellowish (almost golden) crown, red inflatable throat pouches and white sides. This is completed by a black and straight beak.

It has a long greyish neck falling back to the same black, white, red and yellow colors over the rest of the body. The legs are long and slender meant to balance its body.

It will most likely be the most colorful and fascinating bird you will be able to see on your birding trip to Uganda.

Natural Habitat

The crested crane only lives in areas of Eastern and Southern Africa. It is generally found in dry and open areas but loves to nest around wet areas like river banks and wetlands.

Food & Diet

The Crested crane is an omnivores animal. This means that it can feed on both animal and plants. Leaves, seeds, grass, insects, worms, rats, flies, grasshoppers, small fish and even snakes.

Besides the variety of foods, the crested crane prefers to eat the seeds of grasses and sedges. They spend the entire looking around for food and the nights sleeping in the trees.

Social Habits

The Crested crane is commonly known for its ‘dance’. This is when it spreads is majestic wings and flaps as it skips around. Not much of pattern but the wings spread to vividly reveal how beautiful the colors blend together. The top of the wings are black but the feathers are white.

This is most common in the breeding season although they can dance all year round. If you happen to see a number of them ‘doing the dance’ it is quite a spectacle.

When it is not walking around searching for food, the crested crane can rest or stand on one foot, while holding the other close to its body. It has a distinct way of communication that differentiates it from the Black-crowned cranes. When making a call, the crested crane sounds like a honking noise.

Socially, the crested crane is a monogamous creature, having one partner for all their lives. Although you might not be able to tell the difference, the male crested crane is always slightly larger than the female one.

You might often see them in pairs if they are not feeding on the river banks. Flocks of 30 to 150 birds can be found around wetlands.

In Uganda, the Crested crane can breed and produce all year round, but this is most common in the dry seasons. The crane partners construct large nests using tall wetland grass and vegetation.

The female lays 2 to 5 dirty-white eggs. Both partners take turns incubating them between 28 and 31 days. The young ones are called chicks.

The chicks of the crested crane can start running at the moment they hatch. A crested crane can live for an average of 22 years.

Conservation Status

The grey crowned crane is listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN Redlist) as endangered. Recent studies indicate that the population of these birds keeps decreasing and they could soon become critically endangered.

Current global populations of the crested crane are thought to be at around 22,000 mature birds. This is much less than what Uganda has in the 1970s. In Uganda, the grey crowned cranes’ numbers have plummeted from 70,000 in the 1970s to less than 10,000 by 2011.

The major reasons for the decreasing population are related to the shrinking natural habitat. As mentioned above, the crested cranes thrive well in areas near inland wetlands in Eastern and Southern African.

Due to the rapid increase in population, wetlands have gone under a lot of pressure from human activity such as agriculture and urbanization. This has greatly reduced the natural habitat for the crested crane.

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