This species is typically seen in pairs or in a trio consisting of a breeding pair, which defend a territory, and a juvenile (1). They nest in shallow wetlands where they are unlikely to be disturbed by humans (6). In Zambia, Botswana and Mozambique, nesting occurs in August and September when flooding is at its peak and the risk of nest flooding is minimised. The chicks are reared as the floodwater retreats (8). In southern Africa, breeding usually occurs in July and August when it is drier and colder, and the population in Ethiopia breeds in May and June as the wet season starts (8). Usually, a single egg is produced, and if two eggs are laid, just one chick will be reared. The incubation period is the longest of any crane species at 33 to 36 days. The fledging period is also the longest of any crane, at 90 to 130 days, and means that the chicks are particularly at risk from predation (6).
The wattled crane feeds on tubers and rhizomes of aquatic plants (1), but they will also take seeds, spilled grain, insects and small vertebrates in drier habitats (1) (6). This is a non-migratory species, but local-scale movements do occur in response to the availability of water (6) (8).