Wattled Crane

The Wattled Crane is one of the five critically endangered bird species in South Africa, with only some 235 individuals still occupying the country

South Africa BirdlifeThe Wattled Crane {Bugeranus carunculatus}

The grace and elegance so typical of all crane species certainly helps the wattled crane to look nothing short of regal. This beautiful bird is, sadly, one of the five critically endangered bird species in South Africa, with only some 235 individuals still occupying this country. There are larger populations in Zambia and the Okavango Delta (Botswana), though. .

The wattled crane is the largest crane on the African continent, reaching an impressive height of about 175 centimetres (or more than 5.7 feet). Its back and wings are laden with beautiful grey feathers, while the head and wattles are white. There is a dark slate colour above the eyes and on the birdís crown, while the breasts, the tail and the primary and secondary feathers on the wings are all jet-black. They have long, black legs and toes, and long beaks for digging in the mud. There is bare skin in front of the eyes, which goes down to the base of the beak and the tip of the wattles. This skin is red and covered by little bumps.

The male and female of the species are practically identical, although males may be slightly larger. Juvenile wattled cranes do not have the bare skin on their faces, and have brown plumage until they mature.

Quick Facts


Range mass: 6.4 to 7.9 kg for females and 7.5 to 9 kg for males.
Range length: 120 cm.
Range wingspan: 230 to 260 cm.


The wattled crane is a hardy bird that can occupy many different habitat types, as long as it has shallow marshlands and plenty of sedge-based vegetation like grasses and rushes.


This crane can be found in various countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa, as well as in some spots in the highlands of Ethiopia. There are small populations in South Africa and Uganda, and larger groups in Botswana and Zambia.


All crane species, including the wattled crane, are omnivorous. They will occasionally eat grass and grain seeds, but are far more likely to dine on tubers and the rhizomes of water lilies and other submerged reeds, as well as on aquatic insects, and whatever they can forage from the mud with their long beaks. Snails, amphibians and snakes will also make their way onto the menu if they allow themselves to be caught by this bird.


Wattled cranes live and feed in groups, and are known for their gregarious, sociable nature. Their flocks can range in number from 10 to more than 80 individuals. Interestingly, thanks to its habitat, the wattled crane is known to interact with the lechwe (a type of antelope), and the spur-winged goose.


Cranes have been recognised for their excellent communication techniques, and the beautiful duets that they stage with others of their species. Little ones use a range of purrs and chirps to bond with their parents and to demand food.


Breeding season for the wattled crane starts in around April. Three weeks after a messy nest is made of crushed grass on a marsh bank, the female lays one to two eggs. In the case of two eggs being laid, one is usually neglected, so that only one chick survives. The chick becomes a fledgling at between 100 and 150 days old, which is the longest fledging period of all cranes. Interestingly, these birds learn to fly before they can walk. The young stay with their parents until the next yearís breeding season starts.


The incubation period for wattled cranes is between 33 and 36 days, making it one of the longest incubation periods for birds. Both the male and the female participate in incubation.

Life Expectancy

Because these birds are relatively uncommon, the details of their life expectancy remain largely unsupported. However, it is believed that, in the wild, they can live to between 20 and 30 years of age.


Because of its size, the wattled crane is not a victim of many predators in the wild. However, local jackals may target helpless chicks if the opportunity arises. More serious threats to their survival include crashes with power lines, accidental poisoning (usually due to mass aerial spraying), the illegal collection of eggs or killing of the adults for food, and urban development.


Wattled Crane; International Crane Foundation.


Wattled Crane Conservation Status

  • Vulnerable

Did you know?

The wattled crane is the most wetland-dependent of Africaís crane species, and its distribution is reliant upon annual river basin flood patterns. Agricultural expansion is the leading cause of loss and degradation of its wetland habitat (Reference: AWF.org).

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