Known as: Black Crowned Crane, Sudan crowned crane, dark crowned crane, and West African crowned crane
Estimated numbers left in wild: 40,000 but declining.
The black crowned crane is a stately, elegant bird covered with black or nearly black plumage. There are white and gold sections on the wings, and white and red skin patches on the face in the back of the eye. A small gular pouch beneath the head is capable of producing booming noises when inflated. The head is graced with a golden crown. The legs and feet are black. This crane stands approximately 104 centimetres, with the male slightly larger than the female. Black crowned cranes will form flocks during the dry season, but are territorial while nesting.
Diet: Black crowned cranes are true omnivores and will literally eat anything small enough that is unable to escape it. The cranes will eat vegetative matter such as seeds and fruit as well as insects, snails, and small vertebrates such as lizards, amphibians, crabs and snakes.
Breeding: These cranes prefer to live close to water sources such as lakes and marshes, but they will tolerate drier conditions if necessary. The wet season is also the breeding season for the cranes, generally from May through November or December. Black crowned cranes prefer to nest near water, and will construct their nests out of rushes or grasses. Up to 5 eggs will be laid, and both parents will participate not only in incubation, but also in rearing the young. The male crane will often keep a lookout for danger from the vantage of a tree, alerting his family with a call if he detects an intruder.
While dancing is often a part of the courtship rituals of black crowned cranes, cranes of all ages dance, whether it is breeding season or not. It is thought that young birds dance to build up strength and coordination.
Location: The black crowned crane is found in the savannah band across sub-Saharan Africa, from the west coast of the continent including Gambia and Senegal over to Sudan and Ethiopia. The range of the crane was previously much more extensive.
Threats: Black crowned cranes face many threats to their existence, generally because of human activities. Habitat loss and destruction are probably the worst, with the draining of wetlands curtailing not only feeding areas but nesting grounds. The cranes are also subject to damage by industrial development and pollution, and increased agriculture. The construction of dams destroys the shallow water that the cranes depend upon for food – they are unable to hunt for food in water that is over 1 meter deep. The heavy use of pesticides has had a dramatic negative impact on crane populations, and these birds are also still subject to hunting. The drought that has plagued this part of Africa for years is also affecting the numbers of black crowned cranes.
Conservation efforts: Although black crowned cranes have received official protection in the countries in which they are found, enforcement of the protection is nearly non-existent. They are listed under CITES, so that trade in the cranes is prevented at that level. National parks in Senegal and Cameroon do offer the cranes a relatively undisturbed habitat. Captive breeding programs are in effect, but it has been found that black crowned cranes do not reproduce well in captivity.
International Crane Foundation
The International Crane Foundation works to protect cranes around the world and their habitats including the Black Crowned Crane.