Sunday 19 May
Grey crowned-crane (Balearica regulorum)
What’s the World’s Favourite Species?Find out here.
Grey crowned-crane fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Grey crowned-crane description
Standing at over a metre tall, the large yet elegant grey crowned-crane (Balearica regulorum) graces many of Africa’s wetlands. Its predominantly grey plumage contrasts sharply with black and white wings, a crest of golden feathers sitting on top of the head, and a bright red gular pouch that hangs from the throat (4). The head is black with large white cheek patches, while the neck is pale grey (2) (4). Males tend to be marginally larger than females but are otherwise indistinguishable. Juvenile grey crowned-cranes have a brownish plumage, with a darker crown and nape, while the face may be feathered and buffish (4).
Two subspecies of grey crowned-crane are often recognised, with the East African crowned crane (Balearica regulorum gibbericeps) being the more abundant of the subspecies, found in the central and northern ranges of the species' distribution, while the South African crowned crane (Balearica regulorum regulorum) is restricted to South Africa and Zimbabwe (5) (6). The two subspecies can be visually distinguished by the possession of a larger area of red skin above the white cheeks on the East African crowned crane (4).
- Also known as
- East African crowned crane, South African crowned crane, southern crowned crane.
- Anthropoides regulorum, Balearica pavonina.
- Grue royale. Top
The International Crane Foundation:
The IUCN/SSC Crane Specialist group:
Endangered Wildlife Trust:
- Cold-blooded vertebrates of the class Amphibia, such as frogs or salamanders, which characteristically hatch as aquatic larvae with gills. The larvae then transform into adults with air-breathing lungs.
- Gular pouch
- A large distensible pouch below the beak of some birds.
- Feeding on both plants and animals.
- A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
IUCN Red List (August, 2012)
- del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World - New World Vultures To Guineafowl. Vol. 2. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
CITES (January, 2010)
The International Crane Foundation (January, 2010)
Meine, C.D. and Archibald, G.W. (Eds) (1996) The cranes:- Status survey and conservation action plan. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, and Cambridge, U.K and Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Centre Online. Available at:
Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) (January, 2010)
BirdLife International (January, 2010)
Global Register of Migratory Species (January, 2010)
Ellis, D.H., Gee, G.F. and Mirande, C.M. (1996) Cranes: Their biology, husbandry and conservation. U.S. Department of the Interior, national Biological Service, Washington, DC and International Crane Foundation, Baraboo, Wisconsin. Available at:
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (January, 2010)
The African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (January, 2010)
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
Grey crowned-crane biology
As with all cranes, the grey crowned-crane is omnivorous and will consume a multitude of different prey types including insects, lizards, amphibians, fish, grasses and seeds (4). The grey crowned-crane prefers to forage in short to medium height grasslands but will also enter cultivated land to forage for crops (5). This generalist diet allows the grey crowned-crane to inhabit various habitats and adapt to environmental changes, and as a result the species has proven adept to colonising human altered landscapes (4) (7).
The breeding season peaks between December and February, but varies hugely between localities in response to rainfall, and may occur year round (2). The nests are constructed along the peripheries of wetlands and consist of uprooted grasses arranged to create a circular platform, usually in an area of dense vegetation, approximately one metre above the ground (2) (4). However, the grey crowned-crane will occasionally nest in trees; one of only two crane species demonstrating this ability, the other being the black crowned-crane (Balearica pavonina) (5). The grey crowned-crane has the largest average clutch size of a crane species at two to three, with eggs incubated for 28 to 31 days, and chicks fledging after 56 to 100 days (5).
The importance and extent of seasonal movements varies between grey crowned-crane populations. The abundance and distribution of food and nesting sites appear to be the main determinant of the timing and extent of migrations, with larger home ranges and seasonal movements in drier regions and areas with low abundance of nesting sites and food (5).Top
Grey crowned-crane range
The grey crowned-crane is a resident of eastern and southern Africa, ranging from Kenya and Uganda in the northern extremities of the species distribution to South Africa and Zimbabwe in the south (7). The grey crowned-crane is a non-migratory species; however, local movements may occur in response to the seasonal availability of water, food and nest sties (7) (8).Top
Grey crowned-crane habitat
The grey crowned-crane is associated with a mixture of wetland and open grassland habitats, including flood-plains, marshes, rivers and savannah. Medium-height open grassland near wetlands is preferred foraging habitat, while tall trees are required for nesting. Populations in East Africa have adapted to man-made landscapes and can be particularly abundant around agricultural land with artificial wetlands (2) (5).Top
Grey crowned-crane statusTop
Grey crowned-crane threats
The principal threat to grey crowned-crane populations is the loss or degradation of suitable wetland habitat, due to an increasing human population accelerating the demand for agricultural land and freshwater sources. Increased grazing pressures subtly alter wetland habitats and influence the abundance of insect prey and the availability of nest habitat (5). Increasing human populations also threaten grey crowned-crane habitat via wetland damming, drainage, increased sedimentation through deforestation and the use of agricultural pesticides (2) (7) (9). Further threats to the grey crowned-crane include the removal of live birds and eggs and this activity has been attributed to a recent rapid decline throughout much of the species’ range (7).Top
Grey crowned-crane conservation
The grey crowned-crane is listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that international trade in this species requires permits and must be carefully monitored (3).
Conservation projects currently being undertaken for the grey crowned-crane include: community-based wetland conservation in Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe, African crane and wetland training workshops in Botswana, the development of wetland action plans and increased frequency of count surveys (2) (4) (5) (7). The grey crowned-crane is protected by law in Kenya, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe, while wetland habitat is protected by various range countries that have ratified the Ramsar convention and the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (10) (11). Further conservation measures that have been proposed include: listing the species under CITES Appendix I, development and standardisation of surveys to evaluate the species total population and make assessments of trends, the monitoring of hunting and habitat loss and discouraging the use of pesticides through public awareness projects (5) (9). The grey crowned-crane also breeds successfully in captivity and this would help facilitate re-introduction programmes if required (2).Top
Find out more
For more information on crane conservation, see:
For more information on this and other bird species please see:
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.