Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

This species is typically seen in pairs or in a trio consisting of a breeding pair with a juvenile (2). Nesting pairs hold a large territory, which can often be greater than 1 km² in size. They nest in shallow wetlands where they are unlikely to be disturbed by humans (6). In Zambia, Botswana and Mozambique, nesting occurs in August and September when flooding is at its peak and the risk of nest flooding is minimised. The chicks are reared as the floodwater retreats (8). In southern Africa, breeding usually occurs in July and August when it is drier and colder, and the population in Ethiopia breeds in May and June as the wet season starts (8). Usually, a single egg is produced, and if two eggs are laid, just one chick will be reared. The incubation period is the longest of any crane species at 33 - 36 days. The fledging period is also the longest of any crane, at 90 - 130 days, and means that the chicks are particularly at risk from predation (6). The wattled crane feeds on tubers and rhizomes of aquatic plants (2), but they will also take seeds, spilled grain, insects and small vertebrates in drier habitats (6) (2). This is a non-migratory species, but local-scale movements do occur in response to the availability of water (6) (8).
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Description

The wattled crane is the largest and rarest of the six species of crane in Africa (6). The breast and neck are white and the underparts are black. Hanging below the dark face are long wattles that bear white feathers and earn the species its common name (2). These wattles become elongated when the bird is aggressive and shrink when the bird is threatened (7). Wattled cranes are usually quiet birds. Their calls are high-pitched and include a far-carrying kwaamk bugle-call (7) (2).
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Distribution

Range Description

Bugeranus carunculatus is found in Ethiopia, (c.200 [Beilfuss et al. 2003, 2007]), Tanzania (c.200 [Beilfuss et al. 2003]), Democratic Republic of Congo (probably around 500 [Beilfuss et al. 2007]), Zambia (c.4,500 [Beilfuss et al. 2007]), Angola (c.500, perhaps declining[W. R. J. Dean in litt. 1999, Beilfuss et al. 2007]), Malawi (c.15 pairs [F. Dowsett-Lemaire in litt. 2000, H. G. Msiska verbally per J. Haugaard in litt. 2000] or 40 individuals [Beilfuss et al. 2003]), Mozambique (c.300 [Beilfuss et al. 2007], 120 pairs in the Zambezi Delta region [Bento et al. 2007]), Zimbabwe (c.200 [Beilfuss et al. 2007]), Botswana (c. 111 breeding pairs in a total of 1,300 individuals [Gibson et al. 2002, Beilfuss et al. 2003, Beilfuss et al. 2007]), Namibia (c.250 birds[Beilfuss et al. 2003] including probably fewer than 10 pairs [R. E. Simmons in litt. 1999]), and South Africa (c.235 [Hancock et al. 2003, Mattison 2004, Pittman 2007], with a 35% decline in 20 years [Pittman 2007], but possibly stable since Mattison 2004]). The total population appeared stable from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s (Burke 1996), however when estimates from the 1980s are compared with those from 2006, it is judged to have declined significantly (Morrison and van der Spuy 2006), perhaps indicating declines in the last 10 years. The key Zambian population at the Kafue Flats reportedly fell in the mid-1990s (Archibald and Meine 1996; Burke 1996) and was estimated at c.1,000 individuals in 2002 (Kamweneshe and Beilfuss 2002). The comparison of 2002 estimates with those from 1993 suggests marked declines in Mozambique, Zambia and possibly Botswana (Beilfuss et al. 2007). The substantial reduction in numbers since 1993 apparently reflects real declines at individual sites and regions, although the 2002 estimate may be influenced by an improvement in accuracy relative to previous estimates (Beilfuss et al. 2007). Following declines in Zambia the Okavango Delta in Botswana may now hold the largest single population, of c1,300 birds (Hancock 2008). The world population has been variously estimated at 7,700 individuals(Pittman 2007) or fewer (Morrison and van der Spuy 2006, Motsumi et al. 2007), not more than 8,000 individuals(Beilfuss et al. 2007) and 6,000-8,000 individuals (Beilfuss et al. 2003). It exists in three disjunct populations, the large south-central population and small Ethiopian and South African populations (Jones et al. 2006; Pittman 2007), which may be relicts from its former range(Beilfuss et al. 2003).

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Range

Patchily distributed ne and s Africa.

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Geographic Range

Wattled cranes are found in the Ethiopian region of the world. They are comprised of three main populations. The smallest population is found in the highlands of Ethiopia, where they are isolated from the largest population residing in south-central Africa. Even further south in Africa, between Swaziland and Lesotho, populations of cold upland and semi-nomadic lowland wattled cranes are found. Southern Zambia, Mozambique, and Botswana are areas where wattled cranes are most populous.

The Kafue Flats sustain the largest population of wattled cranes, ranging from around 300 breeding pairs and around 3,000 individuals during peak season. Information about this population, however, is somewhat skewed because part of the population moves outside of the flats during seasonal changes and uses the flats as a staging area.

Wattled cranes once covered a greater geographic range in southern Africa, ranging from southern Tanzania to the southwestern Cape Province. This decline in geographic range can be attributed to cattle herding and food gathering before European settlement. Habitat destruction and disturbance by humans further limited the distribution of the cranes in Western, Eastern and Northern Cape Province after European settlement. Very few breeding pairs have been recently observed in Cape Province and Trasnkei. Present decline in geographic range is due to agricultural practices, afforestation, and the draining or damming of wetlands. Wattled cranes have been extirpated from Swaziland.

Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )

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Eastern and Southern Central Africa: Ethiopia; S Tanzania, S DR Congo, E Angola - Botswana, Mozambique; outlying populations in Angola, Namibia, E South Africa.

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Range

Found in Ethiopia and south-central Africa, with the largest populations occurring in southern Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana. Smaller populations are scattered in the Democratic Republic of Congo, western and southwestern Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, northern Namibia and southern Angola (8). The species has been declining throughout this range in the last few decades (6). The historical range was much more extensive across southern Africa and the bird was far more numerous. The greatest losses have occurred in South Africa (6) and sadly the current population there is still declining rapidly (2).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Wattled cranes are the largest cranes in Africa. The wingspan of male wattled cranes ranges from 613 to 717 mm, compared with females ranging from 619 to 687 mm. The culmen, or upper part of the bill, ranges from 150 to 185 mm in males and from 124 to 183 mm in females. The tarsus, or cluster of bones in the feet, ranges from 298 to 342 mm in males and from 232 to 330 mm in females. Eggs are on average 101.9 mm by 65.3 mm in size and are estimated to weigh around 240 g. An adult male has been weighed to be 8,996 g and a female to be 8,285 g.

Adult males and females look the same, except that males have darker red bare skin than females. The head of wattled cranes is mostly white, with the exception of the dark gray feathered section above the eyes and on the crown. The common name "wattled cranes" is derived from the two almost completely feathered white wattles that hang from the upper throat. Wattled cranes have a very noticeable long white neck. Most parts of the midsection are shades of black, including the mantle, primaries, secondaries, tail coverts, and tail. The back and wings are a dusty gray color, while the breast is white. Legs and toes can be black or dark gray. While the bill is a light red to brown color, the iris is dark orange. The inner secondaries extend past the tail and come close to the ground.

Chicks have completely white heads and display lighter plumage color than the adults. Juveniles do not possess bare skin on the face like the adults do. Their wattles are also less conspicuous. Plumage on the juvenile body is a dull yellow color. Immature wattled cranes look similar to the adults, but their backs and under parts are a lighter shade of black and they do not have a black crown.

Range mass: 8,285 to 8,996 g.

Range wingspan: 613 to 717 mm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike; male larger; ornamentation

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Diagnostic Description

Distinct red facial patch which extends along the front of two large wattles covered in white feathers; white neck and breast

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Behaviour This species is generally not migratory but those that inhabit seasonal wetlands are irregularly nomadic in response to water availability (del Hoyo et al. 1996). The Ethiopian population, however, does appear to migrate locally (Archibald and Meine 1996). It breeds in May-October, leaving the breeding area in November-December when the wetlands dry up, and returning with the rains in May-June (Archibald and Meine 1996). Other populations breed in territorial pairs (Hockey et al. 2005) between July and December with a peak during the months of August and September coinciding with the peak of the floods (Archibald and Meine 1996). The most southerly populations often breed a little earlier in July-August (Archibald and Meine 1996). During the non-breeding season the species is fairly congregatory, occurring regularly in flocks of 10-50 individuals (Johnsgard 1983), and there are reports of flocks of up to 1000 in the Okavango delta in April-May (Hockey et al. 2005). Habitat In South Africa this species was found to occupy large home ranges of approximately 16 sq. km, which consist largely (75%) of grassland with a small core of essential wetland breeding habitat (McCann and Benn 2006). Breeding It nests in shallow sedge-dominated wetlands, often above 2000m altitude (del Hoyo et al. 1996). In South Africa and Zimbabwe it breeds on undisturbed small permanent wetlands surrounded by grassland or miombo (Brachystegia) woodland in high rainfall areas with plateau topography (Hockey et al. 2005), where human disturbance is minimal (Archibald and Meine 1996). Ephemeral and seasonal wetlands may be used opportunistically by breeding pairs or serve as important post-breeding dispersal areas (Archibald and Meine 1996). In South Africa it relies on relatively undisturbed mid-altitude wetland-grassland mosaics(McCann and Benn 2006). Elsewhere in its range it breeds on large low-lying tropical, seasonal flood plains such as the Okavango delta (Hockey et al. 2005) where wetlands are bordered by grasslands (Archibald and Meine 1996). It may use man-made habitats such as dams (Hockey et al. 2005). The Ethiopian population uses high-altitude wetlands in the Bale Mountains (Archibald and Meine 1996). Non-breeding During the non-breeding season the species continues to rely on wetland habitats surrounded by grassland (McCann and Benn 2006). It congregates at large wetlands on riparian floodplains, but also requires pristine or semi-pristine, high-altitude wetlands and grasslands in some places (Archibald and Meine 1996; Barnes 2000; Mitchell et al. 1998). It frequents dambos (depressions), permanently isolated wetlands (Morrison and van der Spuy 2006) and vleis(Hancock et al. 2003) as well as using grasslands, pastures, and occasionally cultivated fields for foraging (Hockey et al. 2005). Dams and pans are used as roosting sites during the non-breeding season (Hockey et al. 2005). The Ethiopian population is less dependent on wetlands during this season, generally moving to drier, lower elevation habitats including ploughed fields (Archibald and Meine 1996). Birds that breed in the Okavango delta often move to recently burnt ground in the dry season (Hockey et al. 2005). Diet The species feeds on rhizomes, roots and bulbs of sedges (Cyperus and Eleocharis species, Bento 2002), and grass sward and seed (Hockey et al. 2005). It will also take animals including small aquatic snails, fish and frogs (Hockey et al. 2005). Chicks are reported to eat insects(Hancock et al. 2003). Breeding site Preferred nesting sites are where grass and sedge marshes are bordered by drier, flat to sloping grassland meadows, with medium height vegetation and water up to 1m in depth (Johnsgard 1983). The nest is a large mound of plant material (reeds and sedges), one metre in diameter and protruding 20 cm above the water surface, usually with a moat of open water about a metre in diameter around it. A significant proportion of nests in the Okavango Delta are on small mud islands two or three metres in diameter, exposed by 20-30 cm as floodwaters recede, and in these cases, the eggs are laid on few pieces of reed or sedge stems. Fidelity to the previous year's nesting area is suspected. The clutch size is one or two (68% and 32% of nests respectively, in Botswana) (Hancock et al. 2003), however only one chick is raised from clutches of two and the other egg is abandoned (Pittman 2007). If a clutch or chick is lost, pairs may attempt to breed again (Hancock et al. 2003). The incubation period is 33-36 days (Hancock et al. 2003). Natural levels of nest predation appear to be high (Nkape 2004). The first-hatched chick leaves the nest on its first day (Hancock et al. 2003; Nkape 2004), and may be particularly susceptible to predation at this time (Nkape 2004). The fledging period is 135 days, but immature birds usually accompany their parents for their first year (Hancock et al. 2003). Reproductive maturity is reached at about the age of seven and the species is monogamous, pairing for life.


Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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Two extremely important habitats for wattled cranes are wetlands and grasslands. Wetlands make up around 76 % of the habitats occupied by these cranes, while grasslands make up around 10 %.

Wattled cranes occur in aquatic areas, preferably in sedge and grass wetlands along river bank floodplains. These areas are prime feeding and nesting sites for these cranes. Some notable wetlands sustaining populations of wattled cranes include the Kafue Flats, the Lukanga Swamp, the Sioma-ngwezi Plain in Zambia, the upper Chambeshi basin, the Luangwa Valley, and the Okavango Delta. Populations of 250 to 3,000 cranes can be sustained by one wetland during peak seasons.

Wattled cranes inhabit highland marshes in South Africa, Malawi, and Zimbabwe year round. The cranes utilize ephemeral and seasonal wetlands as areas for breeding or dispersal after breeding. Within Ethiopia they can live at elevations from 2,134 to 3,900 m. These populations in Ethiopia rely less on wetlands, with the exception of the breeding season. They typically inhabit montane grasslands, wet meadows, savannas, streams or marshes, and river bank areas. Outside of the breeding season, they can also migrate to plowed fields or areas of lower elevation and drier climates.

Range elevation: 3,900 (high) m.

Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial ; freshwater

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland

Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds; rivers and streams

Wetlands: marsh

Other Habitat Features: riparian

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Large wetlands

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Of all Africa's cranes, the wattled crane is the most dependent on wetlands (6). Although the preferred nesting and feeding habitat is extensive sedge and grass-dominated wetlands in the floodplains of rivers, they also make use of smaller wetlands throughout the range (8) (6). In South Africa, Malawi and some areas of Zimbabwe the cranes use small highland marshlands throughout the year. Seasonal and short-lived wetlands may be used on occasion for breeding or as dispersal sites after breeding (8). In Ethiopia, this species is not as dependent on wetlands outside of the breeding season and makes use of montane grasslands, savannahs, wet meadows, streams, small lakes and even ploughed fields (8).
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Dispersal

Movements and dispersal

Resident (Lack 2010)

Generally not migratory but those that inhabit seasonal wetlands are irregularly nomadic in response to water availability (BirdLife International 2011)

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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Wattled cranes feed mainly on vegetation and insects; however, they have been known to eat frogs and snakes occasionally. Their main food source consists of water lilies and sedge vegetation. A large portion of their day is spent foraging through wet substrate. Upon locating a food source, such as insects or tubers, the crane intently probes its bill into the soil and digs. The crane will flail about using its large body as a digging force behind the bill. These cranes usually only dig as deep as their bill can reach, but they have been observed to immerse their entire head and neck under deeper water.

Soft soil covered by shallow water is a prime location to dig for food. This digging action comprises most of their foraging activity, but they have been observed pecking, picking up snails, and stripping grass for other food sources. To strip grass, cranes will clench the grass stem with their bills and strip the seeds by quickly moving the bill upwards. Wattled cranes can often be observed feeding along side of lechwes, a species of antelope that utilizes similar plant resources.

Animal Foods: amphibians; reptiles; insects; mollusks

Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers; flowers

Primary Diet: omnivore

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Very scant information is available about the roles that wattled cranes play in the ecosystem. However, it is hypothesized that they may be seed dispersers. They may also expose nutrients from the bottom of the wetlands by agitating soil with their bills while foraging.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds

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Predation

There is very little information available regarding predators of wattled cranes. It is thought that they have few predators due to their large body size as adults. Jackals are potential predators of crane chicks, while humans cause mortalities to young birds during land developments. Adult wattled cranes have been observed to hide their young chicks from predators in tall grass while they go off to forage elsewhere. This behavior is usually practiced until the chicks reach fledging age. Most often the chicks are quiet while hiding, but they will make a “chirruping” call to allow the adults to find them.

Known Predators:

  • jackals (Canis species)

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Population Biology

in the okavango delta

it is estimated that there are 250  to 3,000 cranes in zambia,living in the okavango delta.

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Wattled cranes utilize both visual displays and vocal calls to communicated with each other. Siberian cranes are the only other cranes that have a higher pitched call than wattled cranes. To make this high pitched sound, wattled cranes contort and move their necks. The female starts the call by lowering her head via coiling it near her shoulders then quickly extending her neck vertically with her head slightly angled in front of the neck. Her posture is maintained throughout the remainder of the call display, which is around three to seven seconds long. After she is done calling and starts movement, the male joins in by vocalizing in a similar manner. The female produces a short call in series, while the male produces a long and broken call with a series of short calls following. Like most birds, wattled cranes perceive their environments through visual, auditory, tactile and chemical stimuli.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Currently, little is known regarding the lifespan of wattled cranes.

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Reproduction

Wattled cranes are monogamous birds that form pair-bonds that often last for life. Nest building is a part of a breeding pair’s courtship ritual, along with displays of jumping and dancing.

Mating System: monogamous

With an average clutch size of only one egg per breeding pair, the reproductive rate of wattled cranes is lower than any other crane. They can produce a clutch of two eggs, but usually only rear one of the eggs. Wattled crane eggs are incubated longer than any other crane, for 33 to 36 days. The pre-fledging stage, lasting 90 to 130 days, is also longer than any other crane. At around five months, the chicks will be able to fly. Although recorded during all months of the year at some point, peak breeding activity occurs from May to August.

Weather and landscape are important factors for breeding wattled cranes. The floodplains of Zambia, Botswana, and Mozambique provide a nesting area utilized by most wattled cranes at peak flood time. Peak flood time varies with each wetland due to environmental factors affecting water levels. Average flooding months are August and September. With receding water, chicks are reared in shallow areas.

The drier and cooler months of July and August are prime breeding times for wattled cranes that nest in smaller and more broadly distributed wetlands. During the rainy season from November to February, chicks will fledge. Populations of Ethiopian wattled cranes breed in May or June at the start of the high altitude wet season. Photoperiod changes can also affect breeding patterns for wattled cranes. Some sources indicate that wattled cranes reach sexual maturity at three to five years of age, while others indicate seven to eight years. When maturity is reached, the cranes will find a mate and create a pair bond that generally lasts for life.

Nest building is an important behavior of wattled cranes. They build nests out of large mounds of vegetation and surround it with a moat. This allows protection against predators.

Breeding interval: Wattled cranes breed once annually.

Breeding season: The breeding season for wattled cranes occurs from May to August.

Range eggs per season: 1 to 2.

Average eggs per season: 1.

Range time to hatching: 33 to 36 days.

Range fledging age: 90 to 130 days.

Average time to independence: 5 months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 3 to 8 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 3 to 8 years.

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization

Both parents care for the young constantly during the fledgling period, which may last 90 to 130 days. Chicks will remain with their parents until around one year old when the adult pair will be preparing to nest again. Nesting parents are very territorial, defending areas over a kilometer in size, and because of this they do not do well in areas with human disturbance. The adults build nests in open grass and sedge marshes with medium vegetation. They prefer the water level to be a maximum of one meter. The reproduction of wattled cranes is limited due to the declining number of acceptable nest sites and their territorial behaviors.

Parental Investment: altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female)

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Bugeranus carunculatus

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

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.

AATCGATGATTATTTTCAACCAACCACAAAGATATCGGAACCCTCTACCTAATCTTCGGCGCATGAGCCGGCATAATTGGCACTGCTCTC---AGCCTATTAATCCGCGCAGAACTCGGCCAACCCGGAAGCCTATTAGGAGAC---GACCAAATCTACAATGTAATCGTCACCGCCCACGCCTTCGTAATAATTTTCTTCATAGTCATACCCATCATGATTGGAGGATTCGGAAATTGATTAGTCCCACTTATA---ATTGGTGCCCCCGACATAGCATTCCCACGCATAAACAATATAAGCTTCTGACTACTTCCTCCGTCCTTTTTACTACTACTTGCCTCCTCCACAGTAGAAGCAGGAGCAGGTACAGGGTGAACAGTCTACCCACCACTAGCCGGTAACCTAGCCCACGCCGGAGCTTCAGTAGACCTG---GCCATCTTCTCACTTCACTTAGCAGGTGTATCTTCCATTCTAGGGGCAATTAATTTCATCACAACAGCCATCAACATAAAACCACCAGCCCTATCACAATACCAAACACCCCTATTCGTATGATCCGTCCTAATTACCGCTGTCCTATTACTGCTCTCTCTCCCAGTCCTTGCTGCT---GGCATCACCATGCTACTAACAGATCGAAACCTCAATACTACATTCTTCGACCCTGCTGGAGGAGGAGACCCAGTCCTATATCAACATCTCTTCTGATTCTTCGGCCACCCAGAAGTCTATATCCTAATCCTCCCAGGTTTTGGAATCATTTCGCACGTAGTAACCTACTACGCAGGTAAAAAA---GAACCATTCGGCTATATAGGAATAGTATGAGCCATACTATCTATTGGATTCCTGGGCTTTATCGTATGAGCACACCATATATTCACAGTAGGAATAGATGTAGATACCCGAGCATACTTCACATCCGCCACCATAATCATTGCTATCCCAACCGGCATTAAAGTCTTTAGCTGATTA---GCTACACTACACGGAG
-- end --

Download FASTA File
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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Grus carunculatus

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+3cde+4acde;C1+2a(ii)

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2013

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S.

Contributor/s
Dean, R., Dodman, T., Dowsett-Lemaire, F., Dyer, M., Haugaard, J., Herremans, M., Leonard, P., Morrison, K., Msiska, H., Mundy, P., Pittman, J., Robertson, P., Shimelis, A., Simmons, R., Syvertsen, P., Tarboton, W., Tyler, S. & Beilfuss, R.

Justification
Although it is known that there have been some population declines, there is limited and conflicting information on trends for this species, even in key areas. Until better data can be obtained, it is listed as Vulnerable since it has a small population which appears to have undergone a rapid decline which, with threats continuing or increasing, is projected to continue.


History
  • 2012
    Vulnerable
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Out of the six African crane species, wattled cranes are the rarest. The recruitment rate of wattled cranes was estimated to be 4.2 percent among a population of 784 adults. This estimate indicates that the cranes had a 13% pairing success, which is much lower than other crane species. The estimated age that wattled cranes first breed is around seven or eight years of age. This can have significant impacts on population success.

Wattled cranes were declared threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) in 1988. From 1994 to the present year they have been listed as vulnerable. Data was last assessed in 2008. Their population has been estimated to be fewer than 8,000 individuals. With an insufficient understanding of population trends for these cranes, they are labeled as vulnerable on the premises that their small population has experienced rapid decline. Threats to their population are ongoing and possibly increasing.

Wattled cranes are highly dependent on wetland habitats for reproduction and survival. Wetlands are usually exploited for agricultural development, irrigation projects, hydroelectricity sources, mining areas, and more. With the degradation of these wetland habitats, populations of wattled cranes became seriously threatened. Small wetlands in particular are vital habitats for wattled cranes and are much more susceptible to damage via draining, damming, afforestation, and human habitation. As breeding sites of these cranes are sparsely scattered over a large range, fragmentation can significantly affect population numbers.

Reproduction and nesting is directly correlated with the flooding seasons of the wetlands for these cranes. With the advent of hydroelectric power interests comes the alteration of flood cycles, which in turn affect reproduction rates of the cranes. Hydroelectric operations have put limits on total wetland habitat, feeding areas, and nesting territories.

Grassland habitats are also critical to populations of wattled cranes. These areas have been altered via exotic timber plantations and agriculture. As humans take over territories for agricultural interests, wildlife populations, including wattled cranes, can be replaced by domestic livestock herds. A significant loss in the eggs and unfledged chicks can be attributed to management of wetland habitats through fire regimes. These fire breaks for farmlands are often carried out during vital winter breeding months for the cranes. Other forms of threats to wattled crane populations include inexperienced birds flying into power lines and removal of eggs for the international bird trade.

Genetic analysis has revealed differences between the South African and south-central African populations of wattled cranes. Due to this genetic distinctiveness between the two populations, the South African Crane Working Group has developed a Population and Habitat Viability Assessment (PHVA) in 2000 to evaluate the population dynamics of wattled cranes. This analysis evaluated various management approaches in hopes of enhancing the long term survival of the species. Population statistics are difficult to obtain and give a skewed view on the rate of decline of the species. With the population information available, the PHVA concluded that roughly two breeding sites per year are lost or abandoned due to habitat alteration.

The PHVA set goals for analyzing population dynamics of wattled cranes. These goals included closely monitoring population numbers, population locations, and all aspects of habitat degradation effects and proposing ideas for dealing with these issues. A central database was established to enter all of this data into. Specific models were constructed to analyze the data. Each event contributing to population structure change was evaluated from habitat loss due to industrialization and agriculture to mortality by means of power lines and fences, and accidental and/or purposeful poisoning, etc. This analysis also evaluated the effectiveness of captive breeding programs. This PHVA was carried out in collaboration with the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group. Conservation efforts of wattled cranes are still underway and require long term data sets to construct further results.

The Provincial Nature Conservation Ordinances also currently protect wattled cranes in all four provinces of South Africa. Tampering with the nests, eggs, or chicks of the cranes is punishable by law. These ordinances have also made it illegal to house captive cranes and to shoot, trap, poison, or injure cranes without conservation authority. The National Parks and Wildlife Act in Zambia and Malawi restricts hunting of the cranes and removal of crane nests. Varying amounts of protection are incurred by Designated Game Management Areas; however, human settlement is still authorized in some areas.

CITES: appendix ii

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable

  • Coverdale, B. 2003. Breeding age and pair formation of Wattled Cranes, Bugeranus carunculatus, in the wild.. Ostrich: Journal of African Ornithology, 74 (3/4): 226.
  • International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), 2010. "Grus carunculatus" (On-line). IUCN Red List. Accessed March 26, 2011 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/143779/0.
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Vulnerable

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Status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU A1ace+2cde) 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
Its present world population has been variously estimated at 7,700 individuals (Pittman 2007) or fewer (Morrison and van der Spuy 2006; Motsumi et al. 2007), fewer than 8,000 individuals (Beilfuss et al. 2007) and 6,000-8,000 individuals (Beilfuss et al. 2003), which is the estimate used here. This roughly equates to 4,000-5,300 mature individuals.

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats
The primary threat is loss and degradation of wetlands as a result of upstream river regulation, intensified agriculture, drainage, invasive species such as Mimosa pigra, and rice cultivation (Burke 1996; W. R. J. Dean in litt. 1999, Kamweneshe and Beilfuss 2002, McCann and Benn 2006, Morrison and van der Spuy 2006). Other threats include nest disturbance (P. Leonard in litt. 1999; P. Mundy in litt. 1999; McCann and Benn 2006), grass-burning regimes (M. Herremans & R. E. Simmons in litt. 1999, T. Dodman in litt. 2000, Morrison and van der Spuy 2006), though in the non-breeding season burnt floodplains are used for feeding in some areas,(Hancock et al. 2003), poisoning, collision with utility lines (Burke 1996), direct consumption of chicks (Ngwemyama in litt.) persecution, and traditional medicine (A. Shimelis in litt. 1998). Increasing livestock, wars, desertification and agrochemicals are additional threats to the species's habitats(Morrison and van der Spuy 2006). Nest destruction through trampling by livestock is believed to be a problem (Morrison and van der Spuy 2006). The population is threatened by the illegal removal of eggs and chicks for international trade(Pittman 2007). Adults are also taken for trade and are hunted(Morrison and van der Spuy 2006). The level of exports from Tanzania is believed to exceed known legal exports (Morrison and van der Spuy 2006). The destruction of vegetation by fires probably leaves adults more susceptible to predation and hunting, and flood levels in turn influence the extent and intensity of fires (Morrison and van der Spuy 2006). Recent potential threats that could extensively affect a large portion of the Okavango Delta include the proposed hydroelectric scheme at Popa Falls in Namibia, papyrus cutting, channel modification, and the extensive aerial spraying of pesticide to eradicate the tsetse fly (Hancock et al. 2003). The extent of suitable breeding habitat in the Zambezi Delta (Mozambique) and Kafue Flats (Zambia) and the suitability of remaining habitat for feeding is believed to have declined as a result of the interruption of the natural flooding regime by the Cahora Bassa (Tete province), Kariba (Zambia/Zimbabwe), and Itezhi-tezhi (Zambia) dams upstream, and hunting is also a threat in this country (Parker 2005, Bento et al. 2007).Breeding success appears to be low in the species (Hancock 2003, Mostumi and Hancock 2004b). A pre-fledging chick:adult ratio of 5.8% on the Okavango Delta in January 2003 indicates a low chick survival rate(Hancock 2003). However, each pair of this long-lived species needs to raise only two chicks that survive to adulthood over the course of their lifetimes for the population to remain stable(Hancock et al. 2003). The species is highly sensitive to human disturbance and may abandon home ranges which are impacted by adjacent land-use (Morrison and Bothma 1998).

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The most serious threat facing this species is the loss and degradation of wetland habitats, largely caused by the intensification of agriculture, industrialisation, dam building (6) and irrigation, which causes the water level to fall (8). Another major threat is the increase in human activity close to breeding sites, which decreases breeding success (8). The wattled crane often feeds in areas used by blue and grey crowned cranes, birds that are often illegally poisoned, as they are perceived as crop pests. The wattled crane is therefore vulnerable to accidental poisoning in these areas (6). Other threats include natural droughts, collision with fences and power lines, illegal collection of chicks and adults for food, disturbance by livestock and dogs, and mass spraying of insecticides to control the tsetse fly (8). As human populations continue to expand, these threats will persist; it is projected that the decline of this species will continue (2).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. CMS Appendix II. Protected areas (including Ramsar Sites) have been established in several key wetlands, notably in Zambia, Namibia and Botswana (Burke 1996; T. Dodman in litt. 2000). A major environmental flows initiative is underway for the Zambezi River basin, addressing the restoration of natural flooding patterns, conservation of basin wetlands, and control of invasive species in the Zambezi River basin (Beilfuss and Brown 2010). Key wetlands targeted by the program include the Kafue Flats, Zambezi Delta, Liuwa Plain, Busanga Swamps, and others, covering about 40% of the global Wattled Crane population. The initiative is a partnership between Zambezi basin dam operators and water authories, NGOs (World Wide Fund for Nature, International Crane Foundation), universities in the basin countries, and other stakeholders. In South Africa, and some other countries, action has included legal protection, marking and relocation of powerlines, awareness programmes, and encouragement of habitat protection, security and management by private landowners (Archibald and Meine 1996; Barnes 2000 ; Burke 1996). In the Kafue Flats, more than 800 ha of invasive Mimosa pigra was eradicated through aerial spraying and community-involvement in manual cutting (Shanungu 2009). A conservation group conducted aerial surveys, field research and a community awareness programme in the Kafue Flats (Kamweneshe and Beilfuss 2002). Aerial surveys, nest monitoring (Hancock 2003; Motsumi and Hancock 2004a; Nkape 2004) and monitoring of adult:juvenile ratios (Hancock 2003; Mostumi and Hancock 2004b) took place annually on the Okavango Delta in the early 2000’s. In 1993, an action plan was developed for the species at the African Crane and Wetland Training workshop (Beilfuss et al. 1996). A continent-wide programme for the species was launched in 2001 to monitor the species's status and threats, and help develop effective conservation programmes for the management of wetland systems (Morrison and van der Spuy 2006). National conservation plans have been developed for Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, (Morrison and van der Spuy 2006). Following a workshop in July 2000, the Wattled Crane Recovery Programme was initiated for the South African population (Morrison and van der Spuy 2006; Pittman 2007). There are currently five partners in this South African programme, one aim of which is to establish a viable captive population and supplement the wild population (K. Morrison in litt. 2012). The Johannesburg Zoo has also built a dedicated chick-rearing facility, and several captive management facilities throughout South Africa now participate in the breeding programme(Pittman 2007). In 2005, it was announced that a veterinary fence would be constructed to the east of the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park in Botswana, effectively extending the park boundary and protecting grasslands used by the species from the high density of livestock in the area (BirdLife Botswana 2006).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Develop a coordinated range-wide action plan (P. Robertson in litt. 1998). Re-operate large dams to restore flooding in key Wattled Crane habitats, including Kafue Flats and Zambezi Delta (Beilfuss and Brown 2010). Coordinate range-wide surveys and long-term monitoring (Burke 1996), partly in order to understand population movements between sites and countries T. Dodman in litt. 2000). Continue and expand ecological research (Burke 1996; S. J. Tyler in litt. 1999; Hancock et al. 2003) and support the establishment of a captive breeding population. Strengthen key protected areas, especially in the Kafue Flats, Liuwa Plain,and Bangweulu Swamps (Zambia) and Zambezi Delta (Mozambique) (Burke 1996; Beilfuss et al. 2007). Improve protection of birds outside of protected areas such as the Jao/Boro rivers of Botswana (Gibson et al. 2002). Increase educational campaigns (A. Shimelis in litt. 1998), targeting landowners with breeding cranes(Burke 1996). Employ satellite tracking to study the species's movements across its range (BirdLife Botswana Crane Working Group 2004; Morrison and van der Spuy 2006). In South Africa, work with farming communities to conserve natural grasslands that surround wetlands (McCann and Benn 2006). Investigate whether the South African(Morrison and van der Spuy 2006) and Ethiopian (Jones et al. 2006) populations represent separate subspecies. Assess the levels of legal and illegal trade in the species(Morrison and van der Spuy 2006). Continued (second phase) aerial spraying and manual control of Mimosa in the Kafue Flats (Shanungu 2009, per R. Beilfuss & K. Morrison in litt. 2012). Assess the impacts of fire and management on the species (Morrison and van der Spuy 2006). Study the impact of indigenous game compared with domestic cattle (Morrison and van der Spuy 2006). Plan and conduct research into semen cryopreservation, genetic fingerprinting, eggshell membrane sexing and nutrition (Morrison and van der Spuy 2006). In South Africa, supplement existing wild populations with captive-bred fledglings of South African origin (J. M. Pittman in litt. 2007).

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Conservation

To date, the most extensive conservation action targeted at this species has been carried out in South Africa, but in other countries supporting the species, measures are increasing (6). Protected areas have been set up in a number of important wetlands, particularly in Zambia, Namibia and Botswana (2). Other action has included increased legal protection for this crane, marking of power lines, educational programmes and liaison with private landowners to try to encourage them to manage their land in ways that benefit the wattled crane (2). There are numerous breeding birds in captivity in various institutions around the world. A reintroduction programme has been proposed to return the species to parts of the historic range where the factors responsible for the loss of the species have been eradicated (8). Ecological research on this species must continue in order to provide information to allow effective, informed conservation measures, and long-term monitoring is essential to understand the movements of the species. Furthermore, a co-ordinated action plan must be devised for the whole range of the species (2).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of wattled cranes on humans.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Various conservation programs for wattled cranes and other species provide funds from eco-tourism that strengthens the livelihood of local communities.

Positive Impacts: ecotourism

  • Boere, G., C. Galbraith, D. Stroud. 2006. Waterbirds around the world. Edinburgh: The Stationery Office Limited.
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Wikipedia

Wattled Crane

The Wattled Crane (Bugeranus carunculatus) is a large bird found in Africa, south of the Sahara Desert. It is monotypical for its genus, though some authorities place it with other crane species in the genus Grus, as Grus carunculata.[2]

Description[edit]

At a height of up to 175 cm (5.74 ft), it is the largest crane in Africa and is the second tallest species of crane, after the Sarus Crane. The wingspan is 230–260 cm (7.5–8.5 ft), the length is typically 120 cm (3.9 ft) and weight is 6.4–7.9 kg (14–17 lb) in females, 7.5–9 kg (17–20 lb) in males.[3] Among standard measurements, the wing chord length is 61.3–71.7 cm (24.1–28.2 in), the exposed culmen is 12.4–18.5 cm (4.9–7.3 in) and the tarsus is 23.2–34.2 cm (9.1–13.5 in). The back and wings are ashy gray. The feathered portion of the head is dark slate gray above the eyes and on the crown, but is otherwise white, including the wattles, which are almost fully feathered and hang down from under the upper throat. The breast, primaries, secondaries, and tail coverts are black. The secondaries are long and nearly reach the ground. The upper breast and neck are white all the way to the face. The skin in front of the eye extending to the base of the beak and tip of the wattles is red and bare of feathers and covered by small round wart-like bumps. Wattled Cranes have long bills and black legs and toes. Males and females are virtually indistinguishable, although males tend to be slightly larger.

Juveniles have tawny body plumage, lack the bare skin on the face, and have less prominent wattles.

Range[edit]

The Wattled Crane occurs in eleven sub-Saharan countries in Africa, including an isolated population in the highlands of Ethiopia. More than half of the world’s Wattled Cranes occur in Zambia, but the single largest concentration occurs in the Okavango Delta of Botswana. Wattled Cranes are thought to have historically ranged over a much larger area including coastal West Africa.[4] The range has certainly retracted considerably in historical times.

At Franklin Park Zoo, Massachusetts, USA. Portrait showing distinctive wattles

The Wattled Crane has been spotted in Uganda for the first time in 2011, seen in the Kibimba Rice region in the eastern side of the country. This sighting brings the total number of bird species in Uganda to 1040.[5]

Habitat and diet[edit]

Wattle Cranes inhabit fairly inaccessible wetlands under most conditions. It requires shallow marsh-like habitats with a good deal of sedge-based vegetation. All cranes are omnivorous. The principal food of the Wattled Crane is mainly aquatic eating the tubers and rhizomes of submerged sedges and water lilies. It is one of the more herbivorous of extant cranes. The other primary portion of the diet is comprised by aquatic insects. They will supplement the diet with snails, amphibians and snakes when the opportunity arises. Roughly 90% of foraging done by this species occurs in shallow waters. They typically forage by digging vigorously with their bill into the muddy soil. On occasion, it will eat grain and grass seed as well, but does so much less often than the other three African crane species.[6]

Behavior[edit]

There does seem to be some seasonal movements in this crane species, but they are not well-known. Movements seem to be dictacted by local water conditions rather than by seasonal temperature variations. During local floods, the number of Wattled Cranes can increase from almost none to as much as 3,000 individuals. These movements, in pursuit of ideal feeding conditions, seem more opportunistic movement rather than a fixed migration pattern. On the other hand, there has been observed a migration movement from the high to the low plateaus in Mozambique for the species.[6]

An animal specialist at White Oak Conservation holds a wattled crane.

Somewhat gregarious outsize of the breeding season, flocks of Wattled Cranes can often include 10 or more birds, occasionally as many as 89 individuals. The crowned cranes occasionally interact with this species but, given those species largely terrestrial foraging patterns, this is uncommon. Two species are known to associate closely with Wattled Cranes due to shared habitat and dietary preferences: the antelope known as the lechwe and the spur-winged goose, the latter nonetheless usually being found in slightly deeper waters. There is no data on significant predation on the Wattled Crane, as its size often insures it from being killed. Jackals may be occasional predators of chicks.[6]

Wattled Cranes commence their breeding season around April. Most nest are sloppily crushed impressions of grass along the border of a marsh. They may use an old spur-winged goose nest or make their own. Eggs are laid approximately 3 weeks after the nests are built. The average clutch size of the species is reportedly the smallest of any of the world's cranes, with an average of 1.6 eggs. Even if there are two eggs, usually only one chick successfully survives to hatch or fledge. The incubation period, roughly 33 to 36 days, is on average the longest of any crane and both parents participate. The chicks are immediately feed by both parents, which take shifts. After around 80 days, the chick(s) start to forage with their parents. At the first sign of any danger, the parents force their young into tall grasses to hide. The fledging period occurs at 100–150 days, the longest it takes any crane to fledge. The young remain with their parents for up to a year (when the next breeding period starts) and may gather in flocks with unrelated juveniles.[6]

Threats[edit]

Destruction, alteration, and degradation of wetland habitats constitute the most significant threats to the Wattled Crane, perhaps one of the most habitat sensitive of all cranes. Hydroelectric power projects and other water development have caused fundamental changes in the species expansive floodplain habitats, and their most important food source Eleocharis spp. Human and livestock disturbance, powerline collisions, mass aerial spraying of tsetse flies, and illegal collection of eggs, chicks and adults for food are also significant threats to Wattled Cranes throughout their range.

The Wattled Crane is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.[7] It is listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List.[1]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Butchart, S. & Taylor, J. (2008). "Grus carunculatus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 31 July 2010. 
  2. ^ "IOC Lists (v3.2)". 16 October 2012. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  3. ^ "Wattled Crane". savingcranes.org. International Crane Foundation. Retrieved 31 July 2010. 
  4. ^ "Wattled Crane". birdlife.org. Birdlife International. Retrieved 31 July 2010. 
  5. ^ Wattled crane brings the total bird species to the 1040 mark in Uganda. Safari.co.uk (2011-06-24). Retrieved on 2012-08-23.
  6. ^ a b c d Johnsgard PA (1983). Cranes of the world. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253112559.
  7. ^ "Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds: Annexe 2". unep-aewa.org. AEWA. Retrieved 31 July 2010. 

References[edit]

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