Japanese crane (Grus japonensis)

Also known as: Manchurian crane, red-crowned crane
Spanish: Grulla de Manchuria, Grulla Manchú
GenusGrus (1)
SizeLength: 150 cm (2)
Wingspan: 220 - 250 cm (2)
Weight7,000 - 10,000 g (2)
Top facts

The Japanese crane is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1). Listed on Appendix I of CITES (3) and Appendices I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention) (4).

The Japanese crane (Grus japonensis), also known as the red-crowned crane, is sacred and seen as a symbol of fidelity, good luck, love and long life in the Orient (5). It is also the second rarest crane species in the world (6). These tall, graceful birds are mainly white in colour with black lower wings. In male Japanese cranes, the cheeks, throat and neck are also black, whilst in females they are a pearly-grey (7). Adults have a bare patch of skin on the crown of the head, which is bright red in colour (7). The bill is an olive-green colour and the legs are black. Juvenile Japanese cranes are similar in appearance, although they lack the red crown (7) and have black-tipped outer flight feathers (2).

There are currently two main populations of Japanese crane; one is resident to the Island of Hokkaido in northern Japan and does not migrate (6). The second population breeds in north-eastern China, Russia and Mongolia and migrates to eastern China, and North and South Korea where it spends the winter (1). Recent estimates of the total population of these birds stand at around 2,200 individuals (8).

Japanese cranes are highly aquatic birds. They feed in much deeper water than other crane species; feeding on pasture lands in summer and moving to coastal saltmarsh, rice paddies, cultivated fields, rivers and freshwater marshes in winter (6).

Japanese cranes forage using a 'walk and peck' technique (6). They have a broad diet that varies depending on the site, including insects, aquatic invertebrates, amphibians, rodents, fish, reeds, grasses, and other plants (6).

Adults usually pair for life and these bonds are reinforced in a mesmerising synchronised courtship dance (9). Japanese cranes arrive in the coastal marshes in the spring to breed (9), and nests are made in areas of dead reeds between 30 and 200 centimetres tall (6). A clutch will normally contain two eggs, which hatch after a 29 to 34 day incubation period (6). The chicks then leave the nest after only a couple of days to follow their parents on foraging trips; only one chick is likely to be reared successfully by each pair (9).

These beautiful birds were almost hunted to extinction in Japan at the beginning of the 20th century for their stunning plumage (9). Habitat losses due to agriculture and development have been further causes of the decline in the Japanese crane (1). Wetlands are fragile ecosystems and both the wintering and breeding grounds are under increasing risk of degradation and loss due to conversion to agriculture and industrial development (8).

A number of international agreements have been made to protect crane species and their habitats, and it is illegal to hunt Japanese cranes in all countries in which they occur (6). Protected areas have been established to safeguard the species; furthermore, conservation and educational programmes have been developed with the involvement of local communities, and a number of reintroduction attempts have been made (6). Research into the ecology, habitat needs and breeding biology of this graceful crane has been carried out since 1970 (6).

For more information on the Japanese crane, see:

Authenticated by BirdLife International Secretariat.

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2008)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A. and Sargatal, J. (1996) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 3, Hoatzins to Auks. BirdLife International, Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (October, 2002) 
  4. Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (April, 2008)
  5. International Crane Foundation - Red-crowned Crane (February, 2002)
  6. Swengel, S.R. The Cranes. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan (February, 2002)
  7. BirdLife International. (2000) Threatened Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, Barcelona and Cambridge.
  8. Erritzoe, J. (1993) The Birds of CITES and How to Identify Them. The Lutterworth Press, Cambridge.
  9. HOKKAIDO: GARDEN OF THE GODS (The Natural World) (BBC tx. 10thOctober 1999).