Crested Cranes – the crowned beauties of Uganda
When you plan to write about different birds at Kibimba, Bugiri district in Eastern Uganda, it’s quite appropriate to begin with Crested Cranes, the national bird of Uganda. It’s one of the most cherished birds in Uganda and features in the country’s flag and coat of arms.
At Kibimba we always get to see flocks of them in the fields as they prefer freshly ploughed fields to tall grass and plants. They also prefer wetter habitats near water bodies for nesting. Crested Cranes are a friendly, gentle and peace loving bird, which is pretty much true about the Ugandan people as well. 🙂
The large flock of crested cranes moving slowly and gracefully along a field is a beautiful sight. You would think you could just walk up to them and touch them. But as you move towards them, they too will move at the same speed. So that even after following them for a long time, the distance between you and the flock will be exactly the same. Only if you make any threatening move or sound would they rise up and fly away. Clever birds indeed.
The scientific name of the grey Crested Crane is Balearica Regulorum. Their body plumage is mainly grey and wings are predominantly white. Younger birds are greyer than adults. These cranes are tall, generally over 3 feet, standing on slender black legs. Their necks are almost as long as their legs. The black velvety forehead, yellowish golden crest and the bright red wattle make the crested crane an elegant bird. These three colours on their heads make Uganda’s national flag.
The crested cranes are a monogamous species; they have only one breeding partner through their entire life. The crested cranes are known for their spectacular dancing. Dancing is an integral part of their courtship. In East Africa the mating season is throughout the year, peaking during the rainy months. During their mating dance two cranes hop and jump gracefully with each other, with their wings partly spread. Then they open their wings and jump in the air. Also can see them running around each other during courtship. It’s quite obvious that traditional dances have adopted many movements from their dance.
Crested cranes have a loud, booming two note call except when they are calling their family; they use a guttural purr when calling to their chicks or mates.
Crested Cranes are omnivores . They feed on cereal heads, grains, new tips of grasses, insects, frogs, lizards etc. They stamp their feet hard on the ground when they walk across the ploughed fields. This flushes out the insects which they pick and eat quickly.
The crested cranes generally live up to 22 years in wild and 25 years or more in captivity.
Unlike other cranes, crested cranes are the only cranes that roost on trees as their hind toe is adapted for grasping. They are the earliest evolved species among cranes which is evident from the animal fossils of Eocene period (about 58 to 37 million years ago).
According to the International Crane Foundation, crested cranes are an endangered species and the population has declined 50 – 79 % for the past 45 years. They are most abundant in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.