Sarus crane (Grus antigone)

GenusGrus (1)
SizeLength: 152 - 156 cm (2)

The sarus crane is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1). Listed on Appendix II of CITES (3) and Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention) (4).

The sarus crane (Grus antigone) is the tallest flying bird in the world with some adult males reaching up to 1.8 metres tall (5). These elegant birds have predominantly grey plumage with a naked red head and neck and long, pale red legs (2). Juveniles have slightly darker plumage and buff-coloured feathers on their head (2).

Three populations of the sarus crane are currently recognised and each occupies a distinct range. The Indian sarus crane population is found in Pakistan, northern and central India and Nepal. The eastern sarus crane population was historically found throughout Southeast Asia but is now confined to Cambodia and Vietnam, with a small remnant population persisting in Myanmar. Finally, the Australian sarus crane population is found in northern Australia. Although the Indian population is largely resident, the eastern sarus crane populationin Indochina migrates from breeding areas in Cambodia to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam outside of the breeding season (2). There has been recent debate as to whether these populations are in fact distinct subspecies. However, a recent genetic assessment of the populations suggests that although previously classified as subspecies, they may not be genetically diverse enough to allow them to be regarded as such, and therefore should be regarded only as separate populations (6).

Found in a variety of wetland habitats, grasslands and cultivated fields; associated with areas where there is a mixture of flooded and dry ground (7). Recent studies have shown that natural wetlands are crucial breeding and foraging habitats for sarus cranes (8).

In common with all crane species, these birds are monogamous and mate for life. Sarus cranes are usually seen in pairs or small family groups (7), although non-breeding birds stay in flocks until they are able to find partners and set up a breeding territory (6). Territories tend to be up to 50 hectares, and a behaviour unique in cranes, particularly sarus cranes in Etawah and Mainpuri, year-round territories are established, in which the juveniles remain until the next breeding season. The breeding season tends to be associated with periods of high rainfall and in India occurs after the monsoon rains from July to October (7), but in areas where wetlands are year-round, nesting attempts by failed breeders are not uncommon in late winter/early summer, although second nests are usually initiated 7 to 28 days later (9). Nests are constructed on water in natural wetlands or in inundated paddy fields in exposed positions (7) (9); a clutch of one or two, rarely three or four, eggs is laid and both parents take part in incubation, which lasts between 26 and 35 days (9). Juveniles are able to follow the adults on foot from the day of hatching and fledge roughly 2 to 2.5 months later; usually not all the eggs are successfully fledged (7). Most pairs are able to raise one chick and a few pairs in areas with excellent habitat conditions are able to raise both chicks (6) (9).

Sarus cranes are omnivores, foraging for a wide range of food including seeds and grains as well as frogs, lizards and grasshoppers (7).

The global population of the sarus crane is estimated to have decreased to as little as five percent of its size in 1850; this devastating decline is mainly attributed to the loss of wetland habitat (7). Throughout southern and southeast Asia, wetlands have been lost and degraded due to agricultural expansion, industrial development and pollution (10). Sarus cranes have been lost from much of their former range throughout Indochina and numbers have fallen dramatically even in the previous stronghold of India. Trade in both adult birds and chicks also represent a significant threat to this species, particularly in its Southeast Asia range (5). There is some evidence that the Australian population is increasing in numbers due to changing land use, but this requires further investigation (5).

The sarus crane is fully protected in all of the countries within which it occurs, and international trade is restricted by the listing of this species on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (7). With the exception of Laos and Myanmar, all range states are also signatories to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, which encourages international cooperation for the conservation of these vital ecosystems (11). Although mainly associated with private lands, these cranes are also found within a number of protected areas such as Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan, India, Ang Trapeang Thmor, Cambodia and Tram Chim National Park, Vietnam (2). Education campaigns have been carried out in India, Nepal, Laos and Cambodia (2) and the Wildlife Institute of India has organised a national census of this species from 1999 to 2002 (7) (12). The Indian Cranes and Wetlands Working Group have continued these counts since 2005. The adequate preservation of suitable wetland habitat and sustaining existing land use practices will be the key to ensuring the survival of this emotive and elegant bird (6) (8).

For more information on the sarus crane:

Authenticated (31/03/05) by K.S. Gopi Sundar, International Crane Foundation.

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2005)
  2. BirdLife International (April, 2003)
  3. CITES (April, 2003)
  4. CMS (April, 2003)
  5. International Crane Foundation (April, 2003)
  6. Sundar, K.S.G. (2005) Pers. comm.
  7. Red Data Book, Threatened Birds of Asia (April, 2003)
  8. Sundar, K.S.G. (2006) Conservation of the Sarus Crane Grus Antigone in Uttar Pradesh, India. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, 103: 182 - 190.
  9. Sundar, K.S.G. (2009) Are rice paddies suboptimal breeding habitat for sarus cranes in Uttar Pradesh, India? The Condor: An International Journal of Avian Biology. 111(4): 611-623
  10. Meine, C. and Archibald, G. (1996) The Cranes: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Crane Specialist Group, Gland, Switzerland. Available at:
  11. Ramsar Convention (April, 2003)
  12. Sundar, K.S.G. and Choudhury, B.C. (2003) The Indian Sarus Crane Grus a. antigone: A literature review. Journal of the Ecological Society, 16: 16 - 41.