Known as: Red-Crowned Crane, Japanese Crane.
Estimated numbers left in the wild: 2,750.
One of the world’s largest cranes, the red-crowned crane is a striking bird that stands 1.6 meters tall and has a wingspan of up to 2.5 meters. These cranes weigh from 7 to 15 kilograms, though 15 kilogram birds are rare; the usual maximum weight is 10.5 kilograms. The red-crowned crane is a handsome bird, with mostly white feathers, a black tail and neck, and red feathers on top of the head, giving it its name.
Diet: Red-crowned cranes live in wetlands and various types of tidal flat, depending on the season. They are omnivorous, though lack of resources has forced them to eat rice from paddy fields and grain from other human sources in recent years. Parsley, carrots, reed buds, acorns, and various other plants are also eaten naturally. Meat of various kinds is also important to this crane. Eels, carp, gobies, and other fish are taken frequently, stabbed with the crane’s beak in the same manner as a feeding heron. Crabs, snails, and large insects are eaten when present. These cranes will also kill and eat the young of other water birds, as well as small mammals and birds.
Breeding: The family group is the largest social organization of these birds most of the time. Red-crowned cranes nest in the spring, laying two eggs in a large nest set in wetland surroundings. The birds attack anything that approaches their nest. When the young cranes are three months old, they accompany their parents while looking for food in the wetlands. They are able to fly by autumn. A red-crowned crane can live for up to 70 years, though most live for around 40 years.
Location: The red-crowned crane is found in Japan, Russia, China, Mongolia, North Korea, and South Korea, especially in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas. Populations in Japan are non-migratory, while the others migrate seasonally. The birds favour wetlands, rivers, mudflats, grassy tidal flats, and paddy fields.
Threats: Habitat destruction is the primary threat to the red-crowned crane today, as human development encroaches rapidly on the wetlands that these large birds need for breeding and living. This is currently exacerbated by a thirty-year low in rainfall over the crucial wetlands; in the future, rising rain might ease habitat pressure somewhat. New dam construction is causing wetlands to dry out, however, and everything from urban development to reed harvesting is encroaching on the birds’ habitat.
Some direct threats are also present, including a low level of poaching. Some cranes also appear to be poisoned or killed by eating pesticide-treated grain. Fires have destroyed some nesting grounds, and red-crowned cranes often run into electric wires due to their slow, heavy flight.
Conservation efforts: The International Crane Foundation (ICF) has been instrumental in coordinating action to protect wetlands used as breeding grounds by red-crowned cranes. The Tancho Protection Group in Japan has also worked hard to shield the very limited habitat remaining there. Many conservation plans are being considered, such as founding environmental groups in China, increasing the scope of wetland restoration, and controlling invasive cordgrass species.
International Crane Foundation
The International Crane Foundation works to protect cranes around the world and their habitats including the Red-Crowned Crane.