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Blue Crane

Bird of the month: The vulnerable Blue crane (Antropoides paradiseus).
Blue Crane



The graceful blue crane  is SA’s national bird – and a species utterly dependent on the goodwill of private landowners, especially farmers.


Habitat and distribution: Open grassland and Karoo veld. At night, blue cranes usually return to a preferred roosting site, often a shallow vlei, where they can stand together in the water, relatively safe from predators. In the past, the species was largely restricted to the grassland biome of South Africa, and was therefore most common in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Free State, Gauteng, parts of North West, the north-eastern Cape and the eastern parts of the Karoo in the Northern Cape. The grassland biome is under severe threat, with vast tracts of land transformed by agriculture, forestry, mining and urban development. Fortunately, the blue crane has proven highly adaptable by learning to exploit crop lands, which are, in effect, artificial grasslands. Blue cranes are now more common in the south-western Cape than anywhere else in South Africa.

Although these birds have not yet been spotted in our area, the Rhenosterspruit Conservancy has had some sightings.

 Blue Crane

Breeding: During the breeding season (August to April), the birds pair off and choose a breeding site. The nest itself is a simple scrape on dry ground or in a marsh. Parents take turns incubating the eggs for about 30 days. There are usually two chicks in a brood. They leave the nest shortly after hatching, but are fed by the mother for the first two weeks, and stay close to their parents until the next breeding season.

Diet: Plants, insects and small vertebrates, such as lizards and frogs, form the blue crane menu. Seeds, seedlings, soft leaves, roots and bulbs are also eaten. Blue cranes will feed on newly-sown seeds and young seedlings in crop lands only when little else is available. They generally prefer to forage in stubble lands or pastures.


Threats: Blue crane populations have suffered steep declines in population numbers in grassland habitats. The main threats to blue cranes on farmlands are: Poisoning, especially from poison-coated seeds; collisions with overhead power and telephone lines, and entanglement with fences; drowning of chicks in water troughs when trying to drink; and disturbance of nests by dogs and humans (Farmer’s Weekly, 12 October 2012).
 
For more information, contact the South African Crane Conservation Programme on 011 486 1102, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit www.ewt.org.za.

Photographs are courtesy of Gavin Orbel, Eris Stockenstroom and Mercia Komen of the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy/Oori; this series is a joint venture with Hartebeestfontein Conservancy (text)