The Grey Crested Crane – Uganda’s National Bird : The Grey crested crane is a Balearica regulorum species. It belongs to the crane family guide. There are just about 2 subspecies of the grey crested crane bird which include the East African crested crane which is found in eastern countries like Congo, Kenya and Uganda. This particular bird is a national bird for Uganda and can be seen on the Uganda national flag. This sub specie has a wide bare red area on the face just above that white patch. The second sub species is the South African crowned crane, found in countries like Angola and in the southern part of the South Africa. These grey crowned cranes are similar to the black crowned crane and they are the only ones that have the ability to perch in trees because they have long hind legs that can firmly grasp tree branches. This is probably why they are also smaller. Although they remain common compared to the rest of its own range, it is survival is still affected by a number of factors for instance habitat destruction because of the drainage system, human activities which include over overgrazing, the use of pesticide which pollutes water and the vegetation that they feed on.
The Grey Crested Crane Habitat
These birds can only found in quite dry regions like the dry savanna although when they are setting up their nests, they still choose the rather wetter place to be their habitats. They are frequently seen in the dry savannah regions of Africa in the south of the Sahara desert, in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Kenya. The eastern and southern parts of South Africa and in south of Angola.
The Physical Description
A Grey Crowned Crane is a tall bird measuring about 1 m and a body weight of about 3- 4 kg to thrill while on Uganda Birding Safaris. They have a large wingspan, which measures between 180cm to 200 cm wide, the body is largely covered grey fur but the wings are mainly white and the feathers have a variety of colors. The head is crowned; the crown is made up of still golden feathers. Both sides of the face have a white but have an area of bare red facial skin just above the white patch and in east African specie, this red appears bigger than in the other.
Around the neck region is that bright red inflatable kind of throat pouch. They have short beaks, the legs are long to help them wade well through the tall grass, they are grey and black in color and the feet are large enough to help them balance. In terms of sex, they all appear similar and the main way you can ever differentiate them is by size because the males are often larger than the female ones.
These birds are usually seen walking in pairs of a male and female, this is probably because they mate for all their life span. A pair will define their own territory since they are so territorial by nature, they can mean to be very aggressive especially when they are defending their own territory or their little ones. These Crane are found both on land in trees and that applies to the east African crested crane species and the South African crowned crane respectively.
This bird has got a booming call used in their communication and it entails inflation of the red sac. They also make a unique honking sound, which is very different from that one from the trumpeting made by the other crane species.
Diet and Predators
Just like the rest of the cranes, they feeds on plants, seeds and grains, insects, frogs, small reptiles, worms, small fish, small mammals and eggs of aquatic animals and young notably aquatic animals. When they are hunting for food, they stamp their feet hard enough to flush out the insects and small animals from their hiding places. This is a special technique that they developed in order to get as much as food as possible.
They spend a lot time during the day looking around for food and then in the night, they go back to their nests ate sleep.
These birds are also commonly seen among herds of live stock as they graze and any other herd of herbivores and gain a sense of security while they are among these big animals. Main predators like the Hyenas, lions and even human would rather go for the antelopes and gazelles than a bird at that moment.
Maturity, Breeding, Reproduction and Lifespan
They mature at 3 years and they breed all year round but it is normally between the months of December to February as they respond to change in the weather from the dry to rain season. They are monogamous and once they are ready they display behavior that help to attract a mate for example they dancing, they bow and jump.
They lay 2-5 eggs that that they keep in the nests. Their nests built on a flat and circular platform using the grass and some other available plants like the reeds found in the wetland but can be any other kind of grassland vegetation. In each nest built, they leave 2-3 eggs. They frequently chose to use those ground nests that have been abandoned by other birds, which are as large as they are.
During the incubation process, both the male and female will do the incubation, which takes 28-31 days. As soon as they are hatched, they can fly and after 2 or 3 months, they can fledge but they will stay with the parents especially the mother for about 9 months. In terms of color, the chicks are usually greyer than the grown ups, they have that feathered buff face and start to live a life as their parents live once they are 3 years old.
Crowned Crane have got a life span of 50 – 60 years throughout which they will give birth to as many times as possible.
The Grey Crowned Cranes are referred to as Grue royale in french, in Italian they are called the Gru coronata grigia and Grijze kroonkraan in Dutch as well as Südafrika-Kronenkranich in the German language.