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Grey Crowned Crane- The Grey crowned crane is scientifically known as the Balearica regulorum. It is a very elegant bird with and an ensemble of colours and a very interesting way of life. In most of its range the ethno-ornithology, its symbolic call which can’t be missed because of its loudness and harmonic since time immemorial has been used to relate time and predict seasons for farmers and long distance travelers. Grey crowned cranes are found in Africa south of Sahara and the subspecies that is in Uganda is called crested crane. This type of crane does not migrate so they breed in Uganda and if you are lucky you might see their courtship dance. The bird gets its name from the special crown of stiff gold coloured feathers.
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.
The grey crowned crane is a tall bird that stands at an average of 3 feet tall. That is close to 1 metre 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.
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.
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 colours 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.
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.
In Uganda the beautiful Grey Crowned Crane, Balearica regulorum, is a permanent resident and likely to be seen during a Uganda safari or when birding in Uganda.