The blue crane, also known as the paradise or Stanley crane, is the national bird of South Africa. The long dark feathers trailing to the ground behind these birds are actually wing feathers, not tail feathers.

Physical Description

Most crane species possess red patches of scaly skin on their heads that they use extensively in threat displays. Blue cranes, along with their close relatives the demoiselles, do not have these red patches, but their head feathers are erect when excited or aggressive.

The long dark feathers trailing to the ground behind these birds are actually wing feathers, not tail feathers. Crane tails are very short and usually not visible unless the crane raises its wings. The crane's legs and feet are black.

Size

Blue cranes can be up to 3.5 feet (1 meter) long. Females are smaller than males.

Native Habitat

This crane has the smallest range of any crane species: 99 percent of the world's 12,000 to 23,000 Blue cranes live in South Africa. They prefer to feed and nest in dry, grassy uplands. They generally nest in high elevation grasslands, where there are fewer disturbances. During the winter, they move down the mountains to lower altitudes.

Communication

Most crane pairs leap and pirouette when dancing. While blue cranes also leap and bow, most of their dance consists of the two birds running together with the female in the lead. The excited birds often interrupt their chase to stop and call.

Food/Eating Habits

In the wild, these birds eat seeds and insects.

Social Structure

Blue cranes usually live in pairs with one or two young. During migration, they gather in larger flocks.

Conservation Efforts

The blue crane is the national bird of South Africa, and while this provides official protection, laws are difficult to enforce and often sometimes ignored. Farmers trying to protect crops sometimes poison blue cranes deliberately or accidentally, when the cranes eat poisoned bait intended for other species, or after routine dusting of crops.

Closely associated with grasslands, they are sometimes victims of large forestation projects, which convert prime habitat into commercial tree plantations. In some areas of their range, populations have plummeted by 90 percent in just 10 years.

Growing human populations also place greater demands upon the environment as more acreage is converted to agriculture. Some blue cranes are captured and used as pets. Only a few cranes nest inside of protected areas, so the future of the blue crane depends largely on private landowners.

These factors have given the blue crane the distinction of being perhaps the most endangered of all cranes.

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