Gray crowned-crane (Balearica regulorum) photographed in Villars les Dombes, France.

Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic
  • The gray crowned-crane (Balearica regulorum) is a large, endangered bird found throughout central and southern Africa, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Kenya to South Africa. Once numbering over 100,000, the population has declined to about 30,000 over the last 30 years. 

    Freshwater marshes and rivers are important for the breeding success of the cranes. Much of the breeding season is spent near bodies of water and, though they are nonmigratory, cranes may move between nearby locations to find food. Gray crowned-cranes are not picky eaters; they are omnivores and have been known to eat lizards, amphibians, and fish, in addition to insects and seeds. This flexibility may help the cranes adapt to human settlements and provide a path to adapt to environmental changes.

    As with many endangered species, one of the key challenges the gray crowned-crane faces is freshwater habitat loss due to agricultural development and deforestation. Adults are also hunted for their meat, while the young and eggs are taken for food, traditional uses, domestication, and international trade. Combined, these have caused a steep population decline in the species. Some steps are being taken to protect the cranes, including increased legal protection throughout much of its range. Gray crowned-cranes also breed readily in captivity, which opens the door to future captive breeding and reintroduction programs.

    1. Where can the gray crowned-crane be found?

      The gray crowned-crane can be found throughout central and southern Africa, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Kenya to South Africa.

    2. Gray crowned-cranes are omnivores, meaning that they eat lots of different things and do not specialize. What have they been known to eat, and why is such a wide diet advantageous?

      They have been known to eat lizards, amphibians, and fish, in addition to insects and seeds. This is advantageous because they are not dependent on one food source that might be affected by habitat loss or environmental change.

    3. What steps are being taken to help the gray crowned-crane?

      The crane is seeing increased legal protection throughout much of its range. Gray crowned-cranes also breed readily in captivity, which means that reintroduction from captive-breeding programs may be a viable support option.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    captive breeding Noun

    reproduction of rare species controlled by humans in a closed environment, such as a zoo.

    deforestation Noun

    destruction or removal of forests and their undergrowth.

    endangered species Noun

    organism threatened with extinction.

    Encyclopedic Entry: endangered species
    non-migratory Adjective

    organism that lives in one habitat and does not travel or migrate.

    omnivore Noun

    organism that eats a variety of organisms, including plants, animals, and fungi.

    Encyclopedic Entry: omnivore
    reintroduction program Noun

    plan to intentionally return an endemic species to its native range after it has been removed or when it is in severe decline.