Siberian crane (Leucogeranus leucogeranus)

Also known as: Siberian white crane, snow crane
Synonyms: Grus leucogeranus
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderGruiformes
FamilyGruidae
GenusLeucogeranus (1)
SizeSize: 1.4 m (2)
Wingspan: 2.1 - 2.3 m (2)
Weight4.9 - 8.6 kg (2)

The Siberian crane is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1). Listed in Appendix I of CITES (3), and Appendix I of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS, or Bonn Convention) (4).

The Siberian crane (Leucogeranus leucogeranus) is the third most endangered crane species in the world (5). It is unique amongst cranes in that it has a serrated bill, which enables it to feed easily on underground roots and on slippery prey items (5). This species has white plumage, and can be identified by the white cap and red mask, which reaches from behind the eye to the bill (6). In juveniles, this mask is feathered and the body is cinnamon or buff-coloured (6). Males are similar in appearance to females but are slightly larger, and the flute-like calls of this species are unique amongst cranes (2).

The Siberian crane occurs in three distinct populations, the largest of which is the eastern population that breeds in the northeast of Siberia (7) and migrates 3,100 miles to the Yangtze River in China to overwinter (5). The central population breeds in western Siberia and undertakes a 3,700 mile migration to overwinter in Rajasthan in India, mainly at Keoladeo National Park. The western population, which according to recent estimates contains just nine birds, migrates just as far (5); it overwinters in Iran at one site on the southern coast of the Caspian Sea and breeds in the northwest of Russia, although the precise location is unknown (7).

The Siberian crane uses wetlands for feeding, nesting and roosting, preferring wide areas of shallow fresh water with good visibility (7). The breeding grounds of the eastern population are situated on tundra and sedge dominated wetlands. The central population breeds in sphagnum bogs and marshy areas and overwinters in artificial water bodies that hold monsoon rainwater (7).

The Siberian crane has a unique high-pitched voice and has the most specialised habitat requirements of any species of crane (7). The nest is a flat mound of grasses and sedges, which rises around 12 to 15 centimetres above the water level. Eggs are laid between May and mid-June, and although two eggs are usually produced just one chick is reared successfully. Whilst on the breeding grounds, the Siberian crane feeds on plants, roots, seeds, and berries (7). Some insects, small mammals, fish and frogs will also be eaten (7).

Main threats include habitat loss and degradation in the wintering grounds, migratory stopover sites and breeding grounds. The construction of the Three Gorges Dam and the resulting hydrological changes to the lower Yangtze River is likely to have a major impact on the wintering population (6). Human pressures throughout the range are increasing and drainage, agricultural development, oil extraction and development are identified risks (7). Hunting in Pakistan and Afghanistan is a concern (6), and the recent war in Afghanistan is also thought to have affected migrating cranes (8). At present, the populations are so small that they are vulnerable to chance events such as an outbreak of disease or extreme weather conditions, genetic problems may arise as a result of increased inbreeding and the structure of the population in terms of sex-ratio and age may become skewed leading to further problems (7).

The Siberian crane is legally protected in all the countries in which it occurs and is protected from international trade by its listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (6). Conservation of this species began in the 1970s, and a number of protected areas have been established at key sites and migratory stopovers in Russia, China, Pakistan and India. Educational programmes have been carried out in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Three captive-breeding facilities have been set up and a number of releases have been made (7), particularly to augment the central population (6). Research into the species is ongoing and current efforts are attempting to establish an International Siberian Crane Recovery Team and a Recovery Plan for the species (7).

For more information on the Siberian crane see:

Authenticated by BirdLife International Secretariat.
http://www.birdlife.org

  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2012)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A. and Sargatal, J. (1996) Handbook of the Birds of The World. Volume 3, Hoatzin to Auks. Birdlife International and Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (October, 2002)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. Global Register of Migratory Species (March, 2008)
    http://www.groms.de/
  5. International Crane Foundation (February, 2002)
    http://www.savingcranes.org/species/siberian.asp
  6. BirdLife International. (2000) Threatened Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, Barcelona and Cambridge.
  7. Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Centre (February, 2002)
    http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/distr/birds/cranes/grusleuc.htm
  8. BBC News (February, 2002)
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/south_asia/newsid_1719000/1719867.stm