Wattled crane (Bugeranus carunculatus)
|Spanish:||Grulla Carunculada, Grulla Zarzo|
|Size||Length: c. 175 cm (1)|
Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (2). Listed under Appendix II of CITES (3), and Appendix II of the African-Eurasian Migratory Water Bird Agreement (AEWA) (4) (5).
The wattled crane is the largest and rarest of the six species of crane in Africa (6). The breast and neck are white and the underparts are black. Hanging below the dark face are long wattles that bear white feathers and earn the species its common name (1). These wattles become elongated when the bird is aggressive and shrink when the bird is threatened (7). Wattled cranes are usually quiet birds. Their calls are high-pitched and include a far-carrying kwaamk bugle-call (1) (7) .
Found in Ethiopia and south-central Africa, with the largest populations occurring in Zambia and Botswana. Smaller populations are scattered in the Democratic Republic of Congo, western and south-western Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, northern Namibia and southern Angola (8). The species has been declining throughout this range in the last few decades (6). The historical range was much more extensive across southern Africa and the bird was far more numerous (1) (6).
Of all Africa’s cranes, the wattled crane is the most dependent on wetlands (6). Although the preferred nesting and feeding habitat is extensive sedge and grass-dominated wetlands in the floodplains of rivers, they also make use of smaller wetlands throughout their range (6) (8). In South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe the cranes use small highland marshlands throughout the year. Seasonal and short-lived wetlands may be used on occasion for breeding or as dispersal sites after breeding (8). In Ethiopia, this species is not as dependent on wetlands outside of the breeding season and makes use of montane grasslands, savannahs, wet meadows, streams, small lakes and even ploughed fields (8).
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).
The most serious threat facing this species is the loss and degradation of wetland habitats, largely caused by the intensification of agriculture, industrialisation, dam building (6) and irrigation, which causes the water level to fall (8). Another major threat is the increase in human activity close to breeding sites, which decreases breeding success (8). The wattled crane often feeds in areas used by blue and grey crowned cranes, birds that are often illegally poisoned, as they are perceived as crop pests. The wattled crane is therefore vulnerable to accidental poisoning in these areas (6). Other threats include natural droughts, collision with fences and power lines, illegal collection of chicks and adults for food and disturbance by livestock and dogs (8). As human populations continue to expand, these threats will persist; it is projected that the decline of this species will continue (1).
To date, the most extensive conservation action targeted at this species has been carried out in South Africa, but in other countries supporting the species, measures are increasing (6). Protected areas have been set up in a number of important wetlands, particularly in Zambia, Namibia and Botswana (1). Other action has included increased legal protection for this crane, marking of power lines, educational programmes and liaison with private landowners to try to encourage them to manage their land in ways that benefit the wattled crane (1). There are numerous breeding birds in captivity in various institutions around the world. A reintroduction programme has been proposed in South Africa and Zimbabwe to supplement the wild population where the factors responsible for the loss of the species have been eradicated (8). Ecological research on this species must continue in order to provide information to allow effective, informed conservation measures, and long-term monitoring is essential to understand the movements of the species. Furthermore, a co-ordinated action plan must be devised for the whole range of the species (1).
For further information on the wattled crane see:
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, D.C. and International Crane Foundation, Baraboo, Wisconsin. Available at:
Meine, C.D., and Archibald, G.W. (1996) The cranes- status survey and conservation action plan. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, and Cambridge, U.K. Available at:
International Crane Foundation:
For more information on this and other bird species please see:
- Rhizomes: thickened, branching, creeping storage stems. Although most rhizomes grow laterally just along or slightly below the soil's surface, some grow several inches deep. Roots grow from the underside of the rhizome, and during the growing season new growth sprouts from buds along the top. A familiar rhizome is the ginger used in cooking.
- Tubers: in plants, stems or roots that acts as an underground storage organ. Roots and shoots grow from growth buds, called ‘eyes’, on the surface of the tuber.
- Wattle: bare fleshy skin that hangs from the bill, throat or eye of birds.
BirdLife International (June 2012)
IUCN Red List (December 2007)
CITES (March 2004)
African-Eurasian Migratory Water Bird Agreement (March 2004)
UNEP-WCMC Species Database – Wattled crane (March 2004)
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, D.C. and International Crane Foundation, Baraboo, Wisconsin. Available at:
International Crane Foundation (March 2004)
Meine, C.D. and Archibald, G.W. (1996) The cranes- status survey and conservation action plan. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, and Cambridge, U.K. Available at: