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Red-Crowned Crane: Is This An Endangered Species?

  • Status: Endangered
  • Known as: Red-Crowned Crane, Japanese Crane.
  • Estimated numbers left in the wild: 2,750.


Close up of Red-Crowned Crane

The red-crowned crane (Grus japonica) is a large bird in the crane family, with white plumage and long red crown feathers. It is threatened by habitat loss, pollution, human disturbance and hunting and is now one of the rarest crane species in the world.

Red-crowned cranes are found in the mountains of East Asia, including South Korea, China and Japan. They live on lowland plains near rice paddies during winter, but migrate to alpine areas with marshlands for mating purposes during summer.

The red-crowned crane was given its English name by British zoologist John Gould in 1841. There is an estimated number of 2,750 red crowned cranes left in the wild.

Their mating rituals consist of jumping, bowing and dancing while holding out their wings. When pairing up, the male and female will engage in courtship feeding. The red crowned crane is listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

During migrations to their mating grounds, they are threatened by habitat loss through reforestation, pollution from agricultural chemicals that contaminate their food and human disturbances in their habitats.

High levels of heavy metal pollutants like mercury, lead and cadmium have been found in the blood and feathers of red-crowned cranes.

The red-crowned crane is also threatened by hunting for sport, food and to make traditional medicines from the bones.

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Closeup of Red-Crowned Crane

One of the world’s largest cranes, the red-crowned crane and also known as the Japanese crane is a striking bird that stands 1.6 meters tall (5 feet) and has a wingspan of up to 2.5 meters (8 feet).

In comparison, females are substantially smaller. As a result, their beaks are thicker and more green in color, making them better suited for capturing food.

The adult white ibis is brown, gray, or brown with a few white feathers. The cranes may be seen almost everywhere. Their crowns are red and snow white, while their secondary feathers are snow white. Gray and white is the color of their young.

They have a long, tall body with enormous wingspan that rises up as you get closer to the bird. Their neck is long and thin, but their head is small in comparison with their body. They blend well in with Eurasian winter surroundings, which include forests and fields covered in snow.

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 graceful bird, with mostly white feathers, a black tail and neck, and a red crown of feathers on top of the head, giving it its name. Crane chicks are dull yellow in color, with pinkish legs.

Red-crowned cranes fly with their necks outstretched, not retracted like many waterfowl. When they walk, red-crowned cranes hold their head in a horizontal position; when in flight or frightened they raise it upwards to an angle.

Distribution and Habitat

Flock of Red-Crowned Crane

The red-crowned crane lives in eastern Russia, Japan (particularly Northern Japan), China, North Korea and South Korea.

They prefer lowland wetlands without heavy vegetation for feeding. They breed mostly on the Russian tundra (taiga) between 50°N and 70°N latitude; both summer and winter ranges are north of the taiga.

They winter in wetlands within 30°N to 32°N latitude, migrating south during late autumn and returning during March-April. The crane breeds on dry upland areas near lakes and marshes, with nesting sites typically located between 20m and 50m above sea level.

The red-crowned crane nests in still wetland areas, where it scrapes a shallow depression on the ground with its feet. Habitat loss due to farmland irrigation is endangering their habitat.


Flock of Red-Crowned Crane

Red-crowned cranes live in freshwater wetlands and various types of tidal flat, depending on the season.

They are omnivores, but because they have been unable to obtain food in recent years, they have had to consume rice from paddy fields and grain from human sources. They also eat parsley, carrots, reed buds, acorns, and a variety of other plants straight.

The 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.


Red-crowned cranes pair on snowy meadow

The family group is the largest social organization of these birds most of the time.

Breeding season for red-crowned cranes start with nesting 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.

Breeding season for red-crowned cranes is in the spring, laying two eggs in a large nest set in wetland surroundings.

Their young are able to fly by autumn. A red-crowned or Japanese crane can live for up to 70 years, though most live for around 40 years.


The red-crowned crane can be found in Japan, Russia, China, Mongolia, North Korea, and South Korea, with the greatest concentrations in the DMZ between the two Koreas.

Populations in Japan are non-migratory, while the others migrate seasonally.

Red-crowned cranes like other cranes favor wetlands, freshwater marshes, rivers, mudflats, grassy tidal flats, and paddy fields.

Communication and perception

Flock of Red-Crowned Crane standing in winter snow

The courtship dance is an elaborate series of bows, bounces, and leaps to show interest. The dancing is quite lovely and helps strengthen the connections between male and female pairs. They also have a contact call that informs other birds that they’re in the area.

The contact calls of these cranes are louder and more aggressive than a different adult crane, allowing them to get attention when they’re upset.

When a person inflates a red cap on his head, he may also convey aggression. The red-crowned cranes use contact calls to help alert other birds to take off or when flying in.

When flying they tend to be silent, but they will make a call when taking off and landing. They communicate with contact calls or with their trumpeting call.

The Japanese Cranes

Dancing crane

Japanese cranes have had a significant influence on Japanese culture. A Japan crane is featured in Japan Airlines’ logo.

Cranes may be seen on paintings, hand fans, and even folk tales! I adore a classic Japanese ballad. In Hokkaido, it is said that indigenous people perform traditional crane dancing.

If you want to see red-crowned cranes, go to Kushiro Marsh!

There are two major types of Japanese cranes. There are about 500 in captivity and another 500 living in the wild. During the breeding season, which is usually between mid-February and late March, it’s possible for visitors to see both at the Kushiro Marshland Crane Conservation Center in Kushiro.

They can be seen by a 15-minute walk from a visitor center where you can learn about the species and watch a video of their life cycle.

This is then followed up by an hour-long tour on one of three air-conditioned buses, with commentary in Japanese and English.

Manchurian Crane

Side view of Manchurian Crane

The Manchurian Crane is a species of crane that lives in Japan, Russia, China, Mongolia, North Korea, and South Korea. It migrates seasonally and can be found in wetlands, freshwater marshes, rivers mudflats, grassy tidal flats and paddy fields.

When the Manchurian Crane was first introduced it was thought to be a separate species from the red-crowned Crane. The two were not considered the same until 1948.

There are 500 Manchurian Cranes living in captivity and another 500 living in the wild. These cranes prefer aquaculture ponds, wet ground and paddy fields and during the breeding season you can see them at Kushiro Marshland Crane Conservation Centre in Kushiro.

The crane has a red crown, which is what gives it its name. It also has white feathers on its face, which connect to its wattles. During the spring these cranes have long mating dances that show off their plumage and attract potential mates.

These cranes are quite small compared to other species of cranes. They are about 61 to 86 centimeters tall and weigh between 3.6 and 6 kilograms.

They move in small groups, but they gather for large flocks when migrating or on wintering grounds.

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Conservation of the Red-Crowned Crane and Japanese Crane

The red-crowned crane walking on snow

The red-crowned crane is one of the largest and heaviest crane species in the world. This bird has mostly white feathers, with a black tail and neck and crimson feathers on top of its head.

The red-crowned crane eats a wide range of foods, although due to dwindling food supplies, the bird has been feeding on rice from paddy fields and grain from human sources in recent years.

The red-crowned crane’s diet consists of eels, carp, gobies, and other fish that are stabbed with the heron’s beak in the same manner as herons do.

When insects or small animals are available, red-crowned cranes will consume snails, big aquatic invertebrates.

The blue-breasted bee-eater is classified as an endangered species by the IUCN, with a confirmed population decline of more than 50% in three generations (45 years).

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The primary danger to the red-crowned crane today is habitat loss, as human development encroaches rapidly on the wetlands that these huge birds require for breeding and wintering grounds.

Rainfall in general has been at a thirty-year low in this region; however, future rains might relieve some pressure.

New dam construction is causing wetlands to dry out, however, and everything from urban development to reed harvesting is encroaching on the birds’ habitat such as freshwater marshes.

There are also various direct risks, such as a minimal level of poaching. Some cranes may have eaten pesticide-treated grain and subsequently been poisoned or killed.

Some nesting areas have been destroyed by fires, and red-crowned cranes are frequently electrocuted while flying slowly and heavily.

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Conservation efforts and crane conservation programs

The red-crowned crane dancing

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.

There is a private organization in Japan called the Wild Birds Society of Japan that works to save these cranes as well as other different crane conservation programs.

It creates crane-friendly habitats and conserves the crane’s habitat, offering natural feeding grounds throughout the winter as a result.

The Teachers Guide for Tancho provides several educational activities.

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International Crane Foundation

The International Crane Foundation works to protect red-crowned and other cranes around the world and their habitats including the Red-Crowned Crane.


What is a red-crowned crane?

A red-crowned crane is a rare crane species found in Asia. The red-crowned crane is an “alertness” species, indicating that their presence indicates safe human/natural contact. The red-crowned cranes are an endangered species in the United States.

The red-crowned crane is a bird that many people want to see. But it might not be seen because it is camouflaged and likes to leave to go somewhere else.

How many red-crowned cranes are left in the world?

There are an estimated 2,500-4,500 red-crowned cranes left in the world. The decline of this bird’s population has been correlated with the increase of industrialization and agriculture in China that led to habitat destruction.

Why is the red crowned crane endangered?

Red-crowned cranes are endangered because of habitat loss. Industrial buildings, highways, farms, mines and military areas take away the red-crowned crane’s space. Red-crowned cranes avoid these places which makes migration difficult, which also harms reproduction.

What does the red-crowned crane symbolize?

The red-crowned crane is a symbol for luck, prosperity, longevity, happiness and high rank.
In China, people used the red-crowned crane as a symbol of power and strength. The red-crowned crane is also an important symbol for early Buddhism because it knows that all creatures are brothers.

Are Japanese Cranes Migratory Birds?

Japanese cranes (red cranes) in the regions of Hokkaido stay there all year. But red-crowned cranes go from place to place because they need weather change and to find a mate. Japanese cranes don’t think about moving from Hokkaido because the weather and habitat is good.

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