Red-crowned Crane

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Common Name: Red-crowned Crane

Scientific Name: Grus japonensis

Size: 55 inches (140 cm)

Habitat: Asia; in the spring and summer, they breed in Siberia and occasionally in northeastern Mongolia. During the fall, they migrate in flocks to Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, and other countries in East Asia to spend the winter. All Redcrowned Cranes migrate, except for a flock that is resident in Hokkaidō. The habitats used are marshes, riverbanks, rice fields, and other wet areas.

Status: Critically Endangered. Global Population: 1,500 in the wild. The Redcrowned Crane is seriously threatened by loss of habitat throughout its range. Human development, especially agricultural expansion, reed harvesting, river channelization, deforestation, and road building, is destroying many of the historic breeding wetlands. Additional threats include fires that destroy nests, harassment by people, and poisoning from pesticide-treated grain. Because of their size and weight, Red-crowned Cranes do not fly as fast as other cranes, and appear more prone to deadly collisions with utility lines.

Diet: Small amphibians, aquatic invertebrates, insects, and plants that grow in marshes and swamps. Red-crowned Cranes are highly aquatic cranes with large home ranges. They feed in deeper water than other cranes. They also forage regularly on pasturelands in Japan, and in winter they use coastal salt marshes, rivers, freshwater marshes,rice paddies, and cultivated fields.

Nesting: Males and females are virtually indistinguishable, although males tend to be slightly larger in size. Mature Red-crowned Cranes are snow white with a patch of red skin on their heads. This patch of skin becomes bright red when the crane becomes angry or excited. Mated pairs of cranes, including Red-crowned Cranes, engage in unison calling, which is a complex and extended series of coordinated calls. The birds stand in a specific posture, usually with their heads thrown back and beaks skyward during the display. The male always lifts up his wings over his back during the unison call while the female keeps her wings folded at her sides. Male Red-crowned Cranes initiate the display and the female utters two calls for each male call. All cranes engage in dancing, which includes various behaviors such as bowing, jumping, running, stick or grass tossing, and wing flapping. Dancing can occur at any age and is commonly associated with courtship; however, it is generally believed to be a normal part of motor development for cranes and can serve to thwart aggression, relieve tension, and strengthen the pair bond. Red-crowned Cranes seem to dance more than other species of cranes.

Nests are built on wet ground or in shallow water. Females usually lay two eggs and incubation (by both sexes) lasts 29-34 days. Usually only one chick survives. The male takes the primary role in defending the nest against possible danger. Chicks fledge (first flight) at about 95 days.

Cool Facts: It is also called the Japanese or Manchurian Crane and is considered one of the most endangered species on the planet. In Japan, this crane, known as tancho (丹頂, origins in China), is said to live 1000 years. A pair of Red-crowned Cranes were used in the design for the Series D 1000 yen note and the crane with out-stretched wings is the logo of Japan airlines. In the Ainu language, the Red-crowned Crane is known as sarurun kamui or marsh kamui.

In China, the Red-crowned Crane is often featured in myths and legends. In Taoism, the Red-crowned Crane is a symbol of longevity and immortality. In art and literature, immortals are often depicted riding on cranes. A mortal who attains immortality is similarly carried off by a crane. Reflecting this association, Red-crowned Cranes are called xian he, or fairy crane. The Red-crowned Crane is also a symbol of nobility. Depictions of the crane have been found in Shang Dynasty tombs and Zhou Dynasty ceremonial bronzeware. A common theme in later Chinese art is the reclusive scholar who cultivates bamboo and keeps cranes.

Because of its importance in Chinese culture, the Red-crowned Crane was selected by the National Forestry Bureau of the People's Republic of China as its only candidate for the national animal of China. But this decision was deterred because the Red-crowned Crane's Latin name translates as "Japanese Crane".

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