Overview

Brief Summary

Description

The elegant blue crane is the national bird of South Africa (6). As the common name suggests, it is pale blue in colour, although it can appear grey from a distance (2). It is a relatively small crane with a large head, thick neck and beautiful elongated wing feathers, known as tertials that trail behind this bird and are often mistaken for tail feathers (6). Most cranes have red patches of skin on their heads that are used in display. The blue crane does not have these bare patches, but instead has head feathers that can be erected when excited or during aggressive encounters (6). This species produces loud honking calls typical of cranes (2).
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Biology

This crane feeds mainly on the seeds of grasses and sedges, waste grains, insects and a range of small vertebrates (8). Unlike other species of crane that probe the ground with their bills, the blue crane tends to take above-ground resources (6). Courtship involves a 'dance' in which the male chases the female, interrupted with leaps, bows and bouts of calling (6). Nesting occurs during summer, usually from September to February, and the typical nesting site is secluded grassland at high elevations. The eggs are laid in the grass or on bare ground (8). Nesting occasionally occurs in wetlands, in which case a platform nest of reeds is constructed (8). Two eggs are usually produced per clutch, and these are incubated for 30 to 33 days. The young become fully fledged after 3-5 months (8). Blue cranes undertake local migrations, moving to lower elevations in autumn and winter with their chicks. Flocking is known to occur throughout the year but is more common during the winter when large flocks of several hundred birds form (8).
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Distribution

Range Description

Anthropoides paradiseus is near-endemic to South Africa, with small breeding populations also in northern Namibia (c.35 birds at Etosha, isolated but stable [Simmons et al. 2006, K. Morrison in litt. 2012] after rapidly declining in 1980s-1990s) and western Swaziland (c.12 birds) (Parker 1994), and it is occasionally seen in Lesotho (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007). In South Africa, numbers in the south and south-western Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal have increased as the species has expanded into agricultural areas (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007) but, overall, the national population has fallen by half since the 1970s, with dramatic declines in many former strongholds, e.g. of up to 80% in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and Eastern Cape during the 1980s (Barnes 2000). The increase in the Western Cape has accompanied the conversion of fynbos and renosterveld vegetation to agricultural land(McCann et al. 2007). The population in the central Karoo region is presently stable (McCann et al. 2007). In Namibia the largest recent count is of 67 birds at Etosha in 2006, while further sightings since 2006 include and 38 birds at Lake Oponono and 25 near Mamili National Park, c.900 km east of Etosha, which may represent isolated populations or possibly wanderers from the Etosha population (Benadie 2010). The population has been estimated at c.25,700 individuals (Simmons et al. 1996, McCann et al. 2005), but more recently at over 25,580 individuals(Beilfuss et al. 2007), with a minimum of 25,520 in South Africa(McCann et al. 2007).

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Southern Africa: E and S South Africa; Etosha Pan, Namibia.

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Range

Locally in n Namibia, s Zimbabwe and South Africa.
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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Range

The blue crane has the most restricted distribution of the 15 crane species (7). They are endemic to southern Africa, with 99% of the population occurring in South Africa (8). There are also small and declining breeding populations in northern Namibia (comprising of about 60 birds) and western Swaziland (just 12 birds) (2). This crane occurs as an occasional vagrant in northwestern Cape Province, northern Transvaal, Lesotho and Botswana (8). As recently as 1980, this species was considered to be healthy and not threatened (8). However, In South Africa, the population has declined by 50% since the 1970s (2). Recent estimates put the population at 21,000 birds, but 60-70% of these are non-breeding individuals (2).
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Behaviour This species is a partial migrant which makes local, seasonal movements across elevational gradients (best documented in Natal) (Barnes 2000, Vernon et al. 1992). There is also some movement into the Karoo biome during the winter months (Vernon et al. 1992). However in some areas it appears to be resident or locally nomadic (Hockey et al. 2005). It breeds, usually at high elevations, between August and April, with a distinct peak in November in South Africa, December to March in Namibia, and November in Botswana(Hockey et al. 2005). It is a territorial, solitary breeder (Hockey et al. 2005), and while nesting has been found to occur at a density of 0.57 pairs per square kilometre of appropriate habitat (Barnes 2000). After breeding there is movement to lower altitudes, where the species becomes highly congregatory, occurring regularly in flocks of around 50 (Filmer and Holtshausen 1992), and occasionally numbering up to 1000(Hockey et al. 2005). It roosts at night, often communally, with roosts being known to comprise hundreds and sometimes thousands of birds(Hockey et al. 2005). Habitat Breeding This species breeds in natural grass- and sedge-dominated habitats, preferring secluded grasslands at high elevations where the vegetation is thick and short (Barnes 2000). Occasionally it will breed in or near wetland areas (Barnes 2000), in pans or on islands in dams(Hockey et al. 2005). Particularly in W Cape of South Africa it also uses lowland agricultural areas, particularly pasture, fallow fields and cereal crop fields as stubble becomes available after harvest (Barnes 2000, Hockey et al. 2005). A few pairs in this area also breed in the coastal dunes (Hockey et al. 2005). Non-breeding During the non-breeding season the species occurs at lower altitudes (Walkinshaw 1973). It inhabits short, dry, natural grasslands, as well as the Karoo and fynbos biomes (Barnes 2000). In the Karoo it is mainly restricted to areas where summer rainfall exceeds 300mm (Hockey et al. 2005) and where grassland vegetation rather than scrub is dominant(Barnes 2000). In the fynbos it occurs almost exclusively in cultivated habitats, largely avoiding the natural vegetation(Barnes 2000), although this habitat may provide important cover for juveniles(Bidwell et al. 2006). The agricultural habitats that it uses include pastures, croplands, particularly where cereal crops are grown (Barnes 2000), and fallow fields. It is intolerant of intensively grazed and burnt grassland (Hockey et al. 2005). It roosts in shallow wetlands(Barnes 2000, Hockey et al. 2005). Diet This species feeds primarily on plant material including the seeds of sedges and grasses, roots, tubers and small bulbs (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Hockey et al. 2005). It also takes a variety of animals including insects such as locusts and their eggs, grasshoppers, termites and caterpillars, worms, crabs, fish, frogs, reptiles and small mammals (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Hockey et al. 2005). In agricultural areas it feeds on cereal grains such as wheat and maize, and also eats invertebrate crop pests (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Hockey et al. 2005). Breeding site In wetland breeding sites the nest is a simple pad of wetland vegetation(Hockey et al. 2005, Walkinshaw 1973). Elsewhere it may consist of a layer of small stones, dry vegetation or mammal dung(Hockey et al. 2005, Walkinshaw 1973), or eggs may be laid directly on the grass or on bare ground(Barnes 2000). Preferred nesting sites usually have good all-round visibility(Hockey et al. 2005).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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Dry upland grassland, roosts and nests in wetlands

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This crane breeds in dry grasslands at high elevations where there is less disturbance (6) (7). They may roost and breed in wetlands if available (7) and some individuals prefer to nest in arable and pastureland (2). In autumn and winter they usually move to lower altitudes (7).
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Dispersal

Movements and dispersal

Resident

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Anthropoides paradiseus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Barcode data: Grus paradisea

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There is 1 barcode sequence available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is the sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen.

Other sequences that do not yet meet barcode criteria may also be available.

AATCGATGATTATTCTCAACCAACCACAAAGATATCGGAACCCTCTACCTAATCTTCGGCGCATGGGCCGGCATAATTGGCACTGCTCTC---AGCCTACTAATCCGCGCAGAACTCGGCCAACCAGGAAGCCTATTAGGGGAC---GACCAAATCTATAATGTAATCGTCACCGCCCACGCCTTCGTAATAATTTTCTTCATAGTCATACCCATCATGATTGGAGGGTTCGGAAATTGACTAGTCCCACTCATA---ATTGGTGCCCCCGACATAGCATTCCCACGCATAAACAATATAAGCTTCTGACTCCTCCCTCCATCCTTTTTGCTACTACTCGCCTCCTCCACAGTAGAAGCAGGAGCAGGTACAGGATGAACAGTCTACCCACCACTAGCTGGCAACTTAGCCCATGCCGGAGCTTCAGTAGACCTA---GCCATCTTCTCCCTTCACTTAGCAGGTGTATCCTCCATTCTAGGGGCAATTAATTTCATCACAACAGCCATCAACATAAAACCACCAGCCCTATCACAATACCAAACACCCCTATTCGTGTGATCTGTCCTAATTACCGCCGTCCTATTACTGCTCTCTCTCCCAGTCCTTGCTGCT---GGCATCACCATGTTACTAACAGACCGAAACCTCAATACTACATTCTTCGACCCTGCTGGAGGGGGAGATCCAGTCCTGTATCAACATCTCTTCTGATTCTTCGGCCACCCAGAAGTCTATATTCTGATCCTCCCAGGTTTTGGAATCATCTCTCACGTAGTAACCTACTACGCAGGCAAAAAA---GAACCATTCGGCTATATAGGAATAGTATGAGCTATACTATCTATCGGATTCCTAGGCTTCATCGTATGAGCCCACCATATATTTACAGTAGGAATAGACGTAGATACTCGAGCATACTTCACATCCGCCACCATAATCATTGCTATTCCAACTGGCATTAAAGTCTTTAGCTGATTA---GCCACACTACACGGAG
-- end --

Download FASTA File

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Grus paradisea

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
VU
Vulnerable

Red List Criteria
A2acde

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2013

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S.

Contributor/s
Anderson, M., Gibbons, B., Morrison, K., Scott, A., Scott, M., Shaw, K. & Theron, L.

Justification
This species has declined rapidly, largely owing to direct poisoning, power-line collisions and loss of its grassland breeding habitat owing to afforestation, mining, agriculture and development. It is therefore listed as Vulnerable. Although probably stable at present, a variety of threats including power line collisions, wind farms, mining, climate change affecting the agricultural landscape, and capture for trade could easily trigger future declines unless appropriate conservation measures are implemented.


History
  • 2012
    Vulnerable
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Vulnerable

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Status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU A1acde+2bcde) by the IUCN Red List 2003 (1). Listed under Appendix II of CITES (3), Appendix II of the African-Eurasian Migratory Water Bird Agreement (AEWA) (4) and Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) (5).
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Population

Population
The population has been estimated at over 25,580 individuals, with a minimum of 25,520 in South Africa.

Population Trend
Stable
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Threats

Major Threats
The main factors behind its drastic population decline since the 1970s were widespread poisoning on agricultural land (both intentional and accidental [Barnes 2000]) and the commercial afforestation of large tracts of its grassland nesting habitat (Barnes 2000). Poisoning has decreased dramatically over the last few years. Accidental poisoning, however, still occurs occasionally when grain is soaked in agrochemicals for the capture of wildlife for food, although cranes are not usually the target species, and also as a result of the misuse of agrochemicals (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007). Cranes are social birds and poisoning incidences often involve a number of individuals (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007). Afforestation is ongoing and large tracts of suitable grassland habitat have been designated for afforestation over the few years following 2007 in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Western Cape (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007). Other major threats include collision with power-lines, which is now arguably the major cause of mortality and could have been a major hidden cause before lines were monitored (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007, Shaw et al. 2010), entanglement with fences, illegal capture of fledglings (for food and a growing threat from local and international trade, K. Morrison in litt. 2012), predation by domestic dogs and the drowning of chicks in water-troughs (Barnes 2000). In the Overberg, Western Cape, which holds approximately half the global population, modelling gave a conservative estimate that c.12% (95% CI 5-23%) of the Blue Crane population in the study area is killed annually in power-line collisions (Shaw et al. 2010), which exceeds the maximum annual adult mortality rate of 7.5% beyond which a population viability assessment predicts the Western Cape population would be unable to persist (Shaw et al. 2010). In the Western Cape, the species is threatened by a change in agricultural crops and increases in the human population in agricultural areas(Bidwell et al. 2006, K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007, Shaw et al. 2010). Climate change could force changes in agricultural practices that may be detrimental to the species (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007). Prolonged dry spells and the resultant competition with domestic stock for habitat at such times are considered a major threat in Namibia (R. Simmons in litt. 1999, K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007).

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The main factor responsible for the drastic decline of this crane since the 1970s is deliberate and accidental poisoning (2). Cranes are illegally poisoned where they are perceived as crop pests, and they may be indirectly affected by poison aimed at other species causing crop damage (8). The other major threat is the planting of large areas of suitable grassland habitat with trees for commercial plantations (2). As well as removing suitable habitat, this can result in wetlands drying out as run-off and groundwater flow is affected (8). Other threats include collisions with power lines, predation by dogs, and the illegal capture of chicks for food and for the pet trade (2). As human populations continue to increase, agricultural expansion, disturbance, persecution and livestock grazing also intensify and these threats are likely to become worse with time (7) (8).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. CMS Appendix II. Conservation measures have expanded in scale since the mid-1980s, including efforts to mitigate power-line collisions, addressing illegal trade, the adoption of stricter legal protection, local and national surveys in South Africa, increasing research on the species's biology and ecology, habitat protection and management programmes (especially on private land), establishment of local conservation organisations, and the development of educational facilities, programmes and publications (Archibald and Meine 1996, Barnes 2000). The introduction of more ecologically sensitive agrochemicals and tighter controls over their use has reduced the number of poisoning events (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007). The formation of a Crane Working Group in Namibia has facilitated education, surveys, ringing and protection (R. Simmons in litt. 2007). Future studies in Namibia will assess whether its population is genetically isolated from that in South Africa, and will use transmitters to help study habitat use, their choice of breeding areas and the occurrence of inter-breeding (Simmons et al. 2006).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Prevent conversion of grassland habitat to other land uses and secure sites critical to cranes in the grasslands (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007). Monitor the species's population trends through regular surveys. Include habitat management in future planning of afforestable regions (Barnes 2000). Encourage more responsible use of agrochemicals (Barnes 2000). Target awareness campaigns at the farming community so as to increase awareness and reduce deliberate poisoning of cranes for food (Barnes 2000, K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007). Further research the impacts and risk factors involved in power-line collisions, and use the results of this research to make hazardous power-lines more visible with appropriate devices (Barnes 2000, Shaw et al. 2010). Discourage the taking of fledglings from the wild (Barnes 2000). Encourage the retention of a mosaic of pasture and cereal cultivation in the Western Cape (Bidwell et al. 2006). Increase conservation protection of grasslands and wetlands north of Etosha National Park (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007) and establish captive breeding populations to support future reintroduction and supplementation efforts. A Biodiversity Management Plan for Species for cranes, as outlined in the National Biodiversity Act (2004) would encourage national support for crane conservation efforts.

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Conservation

As the population of the blue crane has plummeted, conservation action has increased (2). Measures taken to date include tighter legal protection for the species; research into the bird's ecology, biology and conservation status; surveys of the population; better habitat management on private land and the development of education programmes (7). Although the species occurs in 75 nature reserves in South Africa, just 200 breeding pairs are found in protected areas (8). There are a number of blue cranes in captive breeding facilities, but as yet, a reintroduction scheme to parts of the historic range has not been attempted (8). Providing that the species is well protected and that suitable habitat is restored, the wild population should be able to recover to an extent (8).
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Wikipedia

Blue crane

The blue crane (Anthropoides paradiseus), also known as the Stanley crane and the paradise crane, is the national bird of South Africa.

Description[edit]

The blue crane is a tall, ground-dwelling bird, but is fairly small by the standards of the crane family. It is 100–120 cm (3 ft 3 in–3 ft 11 in) tall, with a wingspan of 180–200 cm (5 ft 11 in–6 ft 7 in) and weighs 3.6–6.2 kg (7.9–13.7 lb).[2][3][4] Among standard measurements, the wing chord measures 51.4–59 cm (20.2–23.2 in), the exposed culmen measures 8–10 cm (3.1–3.9 in) and the tarsus measures 20.5–25.2 cm (8.1–9.9 in). This crane is pale blue-gray in colour becoming darker on the upper head, neck and nape. From the crown to the lores, the plumage is distinctly lighter, sometimes whitish. The bill is ochre to greyish, with a pink tinge. The long wingtip feathers which trail to the ground. The primaries are black to slate grey, with dark coverts and blackish on the secondaries. Unlike most cranes, it has a relatively large head and a proportionately thin neck. Juveniles are similar but slightly lighter, with tawny coloration on the head, and no long wing plumes.

Habitat[edit]

Blue cranes are birds of the dry grassy uplands, usually the pastured grasses of hills, valleys, and plains with a few scattered trees. They prefer areas in the nesting season that have access to both upland and wetland areas, though they feed almost entirely in dry areas. They are altitudinal migrants, generally nesting in the lower grasslands of an elevation of around 1,300 to 2,000 m and moving down to lower altitudes for winter. Though historically found in areas of low human disturbance, the blue crane is currently thriving in the highly transformed agricultural areas of the Western Cape. This is the only portion of its range where the population is increasing, though they still face threats such as poisoning in the region.

Movements and behaviour[edit]

Of the 15 species of crane, the blue crane has the most restricted distribution of all. Even species with lower population numbers now (such as Siberian or whooping cranes) are found over a considerable range in their migratory movements. The blue crane is migratory, primarily altitudinal, but details are little known.

The blue crane is partially social, less so during the breeding season. There is a strict hierarchy in groups, with the larger adult males being dominant. They overlap in range with 3 other crane species but interactions with these species and other "large wader" type birds are not known. They are relentlessly aggressive to various other animals during the nesting season, attacking non-predatory species such as cattle, tortoises, plovers and even sparrows. Humans are also attacked if they approach a nest too closely, with the aggressive male having torn clothes and drawn blood in such cases.

Feeding[edit]

Blue cranes feed from the ground and appear to rarely feed near wetland areas. Most of their diet is comprised by grasses and sedges, with many types fed on based on their proximity to the nests. They are also regularly insectivorous, feeding on numerous, sizeable insects such as grasshoppers. Small animals such as crabs, snails, frogs, small lizards and snakes may supplement the diet, with such protein-rich food often being broken down and fed to the young.

Breeding[edit]

Eggs of Blue Crane MHNT

The breeding period is highly seasonal, with eggs being recorded between October and March. Pair-formation amongst groups often beings in October, beginning with both potential parents running in circles with each other. The male then engages in a "dance" flings various objects in the air and then jumps. Eventually, a female from the group and the male appear to "select" each other and both engage in the dance of throwing objects and jumping. After the dance, mating commences in around two weeks.

In a great majority of known nests, two eggs are laid (rarely 1 or 3). Both males are females will incubate, with the male often incubating at night and, during the day, defending the nest territory during the day while the female incubates. The incubation stage lasts around 30 days. The young are able to walk after two days and can swim well shortly thereafter. They are fed primarily by their mothers, who regurgitates food into the mouths. Depending on the growth rate of chicks, the fledging stage has been reported when the young are anywhere from 30 to 60 days old. The young continue to be tended to until the next breeding season, at which time they are chased off by their parents.

Decline[edit]

While it remains common in parts of its historic range, and approx. 26 000 individuals remain, it began a sudden population decline from around 1980 and is now classified as vulnerable.

In the last two decades, the blue crane has largely disappeared from the Eastern Cape, Lesotho, and Swaziland. The population in the northern Free State, Limpopo, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and North West Province has declined by up to 90%. The majority of the remaining population is in eastern and southern South Africa, with a small and separate population in the Etosha Pan of northern Namibia. Occasionally, isolated breeding pairs are found in five neighbouring countries.

The primary causes of the sudden decline of the blue crane are human population growth, the conversion of grasslands into commercial tree plantations, and poisoning: deliberate (to protect crops) or accidental (baits intended for other species, and as a side-effect of crop dusting).

The South African government has stepped up legal protection for the blue crane. Other conservation measures are focusing on research, habitat management, education, and recruiting the help of private landowners.

The blue crane is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.

Cultural references[edit]

The blue crane is culturally significant to the Xhosa people, who call it indwe.[5] Traditionally, when a man distinguished himself in battle or otherwise, he was often decorated by a chief with blue crane feathers in a ceremory called ukundzabela. Men so honoured, who would wear the feathers sticking out of their hair, were known as men of ugaba (trouble)—the implication being that if trouble arose, they would reinstate peace and order.

Media[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ BirdLife International (2013). "Anthropoides paradiseus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Blue Crane at BirdLife International Data Zone
  3. ^ Blue Crane listing at the Melbourne Museum website
  4. ^ Blue Crane at oiseaux-birds.com
  5. ^ "Indwe Trust - About". Indwe Trust. Retrieved 2013-06-14. 
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