Shortly after entering Exhibition Africa, at Brevard Zoo, visitors are treated to an elegant, long-legged beauty known as a West African crowned crane. The distinct feature of these birds is the large, ornate crest that covers the top of the head. Combined with their long, slender neck and long legs, the plumage lends a regal air to the birds.
The Philadelphia Zoo gives the West African crowned cranes’ size as 39-41 inches tall with a wingspan of 70-78 inches. Their weight is given as 6.5 to 9 pounds. Males and females are silimarly colored, however, the males are slightly larger than the females. Their overall color is grayish, with tails, bills, long legs, and toes being black. They also have a red wattle. Their beak is short, straight and very sharp.
West African crowned cranes prefer the wetland portions of grasslands and open plains. The Brevard Zoo reports that they are active during the daytime. Usually found in large flocks, during mating season, they are often found in pairs. Cranes are known for their showy dances. These dances can involve running, jumping, bouncing, leaping, and short flights. Cranes of all ages, not just those seeking to mate, take part in dancing.
Reproduction and family life
West African crowned cranes mate for life, unless one mate dies or breeding is unsuccessful. Both the male and the female build the nest, incubate the eggs, and care for their young. Two or three eggs are common, and the young hatch after 28 – 31 days of incubation, states Brevard Zoo. The young are able to forage for food with their parents soon after hatching. They are completely independent from the parents at 60 – 100 days after hatching.
West African crowned cranes have short beaks that are adapted to grab insects, grasp seeds and nibble on vegetation. They are reported to be greedy, unrefined feeders. In the wild, they eat insects, mollusks, millipedes, crustaceans, small fish, amphibians, reptiles, seed heads, grasses, and crops such as corn and rice.
Origin and classification
The International Crane Foundation states that the West African crowned crane population has declined so dramatically over the past 25 years that it is now threatened with extinction. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List rates them as Endangered. Both groups are working with Nigeria, where the West African crowned crane is the national bird, to provide government assistance with enforcement of protection laws.
When visiting the Brevard Zoo, make sure to see the West African crowned cranes in Expedition Africa. Be sure to look for Scar. He will be the one dancing around, trying to impress the females, who generally ignore him.