Red-crowned Crane

Scientific Name
Grus japonensis
Conservation Status
Endangered (EN)

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__NOTOC__ The Red-crowned Crane (Grus japonensis), also called the Japanese Crane or Manchurian Crane (; Hanyu Pinyin: Dndng H; , tancho; the Chinese character '' means 'red', '/' means 'crown' and '/' means 'crane'), is a large east Asian crane and among the rarest cranes in the world. In some parts of its range, it is known as a symbol of luck, longevity and fidelity.
Adult Red-crowned Cranes are named for a patch of red bare skin on the crown, which becomes brighter in the mating season. Overall, they are snow white in color with black on the wing secondaries, which can appears almost like a black tail when the birds are standing, but the real tail feathers are actually white. Males are black on the cheeks, throat and neck in males, while females are pearly gray in these spots. The bill is olive green to greenish horn, the legs are slaty to grayish black, and the iris is dark brown. This species is among the largest cranes, typically measuring about tall and in length (from bill to tail tip). Across the large wingspan, the Red-crowned crane measures . Typical body weight can range from , with males being slightly larger and heavier than females and weight ranging higher just prior to migration. On average, it is the heaviest crane species, although both the Sarus and Wattled Crane can grow taller and exceed this species in linear measurements. The maximum known weight of the Red-crowned Crane is . Among standard measurements, the wing chord measures , the exposed culmen measures and the tarsus measures .
In the spring and summer, the migratory populations of the Red-crowned Crane breed in Siberia (eastern Russia), northeastern China and occasionally in northeastern Mongolia (i.e., Mongol Daguur Strictly Protected Area). The breeding range centers in Lake Khanka, on the border of China and Russia. Normally the crane lays 2 eggs, with only one surviving. Later, in the fall, they migrate in flocks to Korea and east-central China to spend the winter. Vagrants have also been recorded in Taiwan. In addition to the migratory populations, a resident population is found in eastern Hokkaid in Japan. This species nests in wetlands and rivers. In the wintering range, their habitat is comprised mainly by paddy fields and grassy tidal flats and muflats. In the flats, the birds feed on aquatic invertebrates and, in cold, snowy conditions, the birds switch to mainly living on rice gleanings from the paddy fields.
Red-crowned Cranes have a highly omnivorous diet, though the dietary preferences have not been fully studied. They eat rice, parsley, water plants, carrots, reed buds, acorns, buckwheat and a variety of water plants. Among animal matter, they have been recorded as eating several types of fish close to the surface, including various loaches like carp and goldfish as well as eels, gobies, salmonids and sticklebacks. Protein-rich fish are especially important for feeding to the young. Frogs, salamanders and their tadpoles are also eaten with some regularity. They will also opportunistically eat snails, crabs, dragonflies, waterfowl ducklings, other small birds and small mammals. They seem to prefer animal food matter throughout the year, although rice is now essential to survival for wintering birds in Japan and grass seeds are an important food source. While all cranes are ominivorous, per Johnsgard, the two most common crane species today (the Sandhill and Common Cranes) are amongst the most herbivorous species while the two rarest species (the Red-crowned and Whooping Cranes) are perhaps the most carnivorous species. They typically forage by keeping the head close to the ground, jabbing the bill into mud when something edible is encountered. When capturing fish or other slippery prey, they may quickly jab in a similar fashion to a heron. Although animal prey can be swallowed whole, usually Red-crowned Cranes more often tears up prey by grasping with its bill and shaking it vigorously, eating pieces as they fall apart. Most foraging occurs in wet grasslands, cultivated fields, in shallow rivers or on lakeshores.
The population of Red-crowned Cranes in Japan is essentially non-migratory, with the race in Hokkaido moving only to its wintering grounds. Only the mainland population experiences a long-distance migration. They leave their wintering grounds in spring by February and are established on territories by April. In fall, they leave their breeding territories in October and November, with the migration fully over by mid-December.
Flock sizes are effected by the small numbers remaining in the species and, given their largely carnivorous diet, some feeding dispersal is needed in natural conditions. Wintering cranes have been observed foraging various in family groups, pairs and singly, although all roosting is in larger groups (up to 80 individuals) with unrelated cranes. By the early spring, pairs begin to spend more time together, with non-breeding birds and juveniles dispersing separately.
Due to their securing size, Red-crowned cranes often react indifferently to the presence of other birds such as small raptors, with harriers, falcons, owls and small buzzards hunting near a crane nest without any parties harassing each other. Birds more likely to be egg or nest predators, such as corvids, some buzzards, and various eagles, are treated aggressively and will be threatened until they leave the crane's territory. Mammalian carnivores, including gray wolves, red foxes, badgers, raccoon dogs, Eurasian lynxes and domestic dogs are attacked immediately, with the parent cranes attempting to jab them in the flanks until the predator leaves the vicinity. Occasionally, losses at the nest occur to any of the above predators. Immature and unwary adult cranes may be killed by the largest raptors, such as sea eagles, or mammalian carnivores, though this is rare, especially with adults. White-naped Cranes often nest near Red-crowned Cranes but competition is lessened by the greater portion of vegetation in the White-naped's diet.
It is believed that breeding maturity is reached at 3 or 4 years of age. All mating and egg-laying is largely restricted to April and early May. A Red-crowned Crane pair will duet in various situations, helping to establish formation and maintenance of the pair bond, as well as territorial advertisement and agonistic signaling. The pair move rhythmically until they are standing close, throw their heads back and let out a fluting call in unison, often triggering other pairs to start duetting as well. As it is occurs year around, the social implications of dancing are complex in meaning. However, dancing behavior is generally thought to show excitement in the species. Nesting territories range from and are often the same year after year. Most nesting territories are characterized by flat terrain, access to wetland habitat and tall grasses. Nest sites are selected by females but built by both sexes and are frequently in a small clearing made by the cranes. A majority of nests contain two eggs, though 1 to 3 have been recorded. Both sexes incubate the eggs for at least 30 days. They also both feed the young when they hatch. Staying in the nest for the first few weeks, the young start to follow their parents as they forage in marshes by around 3 months of age. By early fall, the young are fledged and are assured fliers by migration time. Although they can fly well, crane young remain together with their parents for around 9 months. The average adult lifespan is around 30 to 40 years, with some specimens living to 70 years of age in captivity. It is one of the longest living species of bird.
The estimated total population of the species is only 2,750 in the wild, including about 1,000 birds in the resident Japanese population. Of the migratory populations, about 1,000 winter in China (mainly at the Yellow River delta and Yancheng Coastal Wetlands), and the remaining winter in Korea. The National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ran a program where U.S. zoos donated eggs which were flown to Russia and raised in the Khinganski Nature Reserve and released into the wild. This program sent 150 eggs between 1995-2005. The program has been put on hold in order to concentrate on different crane conservation programs in Russia, such as education and fire suppression (Red-crowned Crane SSP). Several hundred Red-crowned Cranes are kept in zoos around the world. Assuredly, the international efforts of Russia, China, Japan and Korea are needed to keep the species from extinction. The most pressing threat is habitat destruction, with a general lack of remaining pristine wetland habitats for the species to nest in. In Japan, there is little proper nesting habitat and the local breeding population is close to the saturation point.
In Japan, this crane is known as the tancho and is said to live for 1,000 years. A pair of Red-crowned Cranes were used in the design for the Series D 1000 yen note (reverse side). In the Ainu language, the Red-crowned Crane is known as sarurun kamuy or marsh kamuy. At Tsurui they are one of the 100 Soundscapes of Japan. In China, the Red-crowned Crane is often featured in myths and legends. In Taoism, the Red-crowned Crane is a symbol of longevity and immortality. In art and literature, immortals are often depicted riding on cranes. A mortal who attains immortality is similarly carried off by a crane. Reflecting this association, Red-crowned Cranes are called xian he (), or fairy cranes. The Red-crowned Crane is also a symbol of nobility. Depictions of the crane have been found in Shang Dynasty tombs and Zhou Dynasty ceremonial bronzeware. A common theme in later Chinese art is the reclusive scholar who cultivates bamboo and keeps cranes. Because of its importance in Chinese culture, the Red-crowned Crane was selected by the National Forestry Bureau of the People's Republic of China as its only candidate for the national animal of China. This decision was deferred because the Red-crowned Crane's Latin name translates as "Japanese Crane".