Balearica regulorum - The Grey Crowned Crane

This beautiful crane species is most often recognised for the golden ‘crown’ of feathers that stand tall and proud on its head, and are its namesake. It is the national bird of Uganda and, when one considers its unique beauty, it really is no wonder.

Did you know? South Africa is home to an estimated 12 000 of the world’s population of 30 000 grey crowned cranes.

This majestic bird is mainly grey, while the sides of its face are white. The red pouch on its throat inflates in a dramatic display and stretches in order to create space in which to store fish or other food while searching for more. The grey crowned crane is a relatively tall bird with long, slender feet that are excellent for balancing in the wet marshy areas in which it is commonly found. Males and females look very much the same, although females may be slightly smaller.

This bird has plenty of character, and is a delight to watch during its entertaining mating ritual.


Range mass: 3.5 kg.
Range length: 1 m.
Range wingspan: 2 m.


The grey crowned crane tends to favour the dry grasslands and savannahs of Africa. However, when the time comes for it to nest, it will likely move on to wetter areas. Generally, they can be encountered in flatlands that are covered in grass, as well as near marshes, lakes and rivers.


The grey crowned crane is naturally found in various countries throughout the continent of Africa. These include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and South Africa. These are not migratory birds, although they may move around locally.

South Africa is home to an estimated 12 000 of the world’s population of 30 000 grey crowned cranes. Spot them at the Karkloof Crane & Conservation Centre (a little over 90 minutes from Durban), the Steenkampsberg Nature Reserve and Dullstroom Nature Reserve in Dullstroom, Himeville Nature Reserve in the Drakensberg, and the Seekoeivlei Nature Reserve, which is about 250km from Johannesburg in the Gauteng province.


This bird, like all cranes, is an omnivore. Therefore, its diet includes grass tips, nuts, soybeans, maize, and millet; as well as insects and other small animals that can be found at ground level (including frogs, snakes, fish and aquatic eggs). Because they often walk along with grazing antelope, they are sometimes able to seize the little animals that leap out of the grazers’ way.


The crowned crane is a sociable bird, and flocks of between 30 and 150 individuals can be expected. Its impressive mating display includes dancing and jumping, with generous amounts of bowing in-between, which is always fantastic to watch. While prospective breeding couples dance, juveniles will often join them.


The grey crowned crane is an able communicator, and known for the loud honks that it uses.


In South Africa, the grey crowned crane breeds during the summer months. However, this breeding season changes according to the rainfall, depending on where in the world the crane is living.

The birds will prepare a large nest, which forms a platform made out of grass and other plants. They position this nest in the tall grasses and reeds of the wetland. Usually, they lay between two and five shiny white eggs, which both the male and female of the sexes will take turns to incubate for around a month. When the chicks are born, they are already well developed, and do not need to be taught to walk, or even run, as they are able to do this immediately. Chicks fledge within the first 55 to 100 days of their lives.


The grey crowned crane incubates its eggs for between 28 and 31 days.

Life Expectancy

It is believed to live for up to 22 years in the wild and up to 25 years in captivity.


There has been a dramatic drop in the population numbers of the grey crowned crane all over the continent. A major reason for this is the live trade of these beautiful birds for the purpose of moving them from the wild into zoos, parks and aviaries. Other threats include poisoning, habitat loss, and collisions with power lines.


International Crane Foundation; BirdLife International; KZN Crane; Animal Diversity.

Conservation Status
Grey Crowned Crane
Kruger Park's Big 6 Birds
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