Black Crowned Crane Balearica pavonina


Justification of Red List Category
This species is classified as Vulnerable as recent surveys have shown a rapid population decline which is predicted to continue into the future, primarily due to habitat loss and trapping for domestication or illegal international trade. However, trend data for the eastern sub-population is poorly known, and should the worst-case scenario for B. p. ceciliae prove to be accurate this species may warrant uplisting in the future.

Population justification
The western sub-population (B. p. pavonina) was estimated to number c.15,000 individuals in 2004, and the eastern sub-population (B. p. ceciliae) is less well-known, though estimated at 28,000-55,000 individuals in the same year. This gives a total population estimate of 43,000-70,000 individuals, roughly equivalent to 28,000-47,000 mature individuals.

Trend justification
The western sub-population (B. p. pavonina) is estimated to have declined from 15,000-20,000 individuals in 1985 to 15,000 individuals in 2004 (Beilfuss et al. 2007). Although the eastern sub-population may have undergone a more substantial decline (50,000-70,000 individuals in 1985 to 28,000-55,000 individuals in 2004), the accuracy of initial and current counts are questionable hence a trend based on these data is not advisable (Beilfuss et al. 2007, T. Dodman in litt. 2009). Therefore, based on data from B. p. pavonina populations alone, the species is estimated to have declined between 0-25% from 1985-2004. Given the uncertainty around these estimates, we provisionally estimate a worst-case decline of 30-49% over 45 years (three generations), though the true figure may be higher depending on the status of B. p. ceciliae.

Distribution and population

Balearica pavonina occurs in disjunct sub-populations through the Sahel and Sudan-Guinea savanna zones of Africa, with records from as far south as the Democratic Republic of Congo, but was once more numerous and widespread. The western sub-population (B. p. pavonina) was estimated to number 15,000-20,000 birds in 1985 and c.15,000 birds in 2004, suggesting that an alarming rate of decline reported in the 1960s and 1970s may have slowed in recent years (Beilfuss et al. 2007). The status of the eastern sub-population (B. p. ceciliae) is less well-known, though it appears to have declined from an estimated 65,000-90,000 individuals in 1985 and 65,000-77,500 individuals in 1994 to an estimated 28,000-55,000 individuals in 2004 (with at least 80% in Sudan and South Sudan) (Beilfus et al. 2005, Beilfuss et al. 2007). Records also indicate a range contraction in both sub-populations (Beilfuss et al. 2007), and it appears to have disappeared from some countries completely (e.g. Nigeria) (Dodman et al. 2014).


Behaviour The species is largely a resident, but undergoes local daily and seasonal movements of up to several dozen kilometres (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Meine and Archibald 1996, E. T. C. Williams in litt. 2000). It breeds during the wet season months of May-December in West Africa, and July-January in East Africa (subject to local seasonal variation), nesting in single pairs in territories 0.5-1 km2 (Urban et al. 1986). During the dry (non-breeding) season it is more congregatory, forming large flocks of up to several hundred individuals (Urban et al. 1986, del Hoyo et al. 1996). In South Sudan it begins to flock along the Nile in November, reaching a peak in late February and March (Urban et al. 1986). In Chad it gathers in concentrations after breeding, and then moves south (Urban et al. 1986). In Nigeria it was subject to local movements with seasonal changes in water levels (Urban et al. 1986), though it no longer occurs in the country. It forages singly, in pairs or in small groups (Urban et al. 1986). Habitat Breeding This species is found in wet and dry open habitats, but prefers freshwater marshes, wet grasslands, and the peripheries of water-bodies (Meine and Archibald 1996). In South Sudan it is especially found in areas with water up to 1 m in depth, and knee-high to hip-high vegetation dominated by Cyperus, Eleocharis, Scirpus, Setaria, Cynodon and various leguminous and rosaceous plants (Johnsgard 1983). It always remains near wetlands, but is rarely associated with deep, open water (Urban et al. 1986). It often prefers to forage on dry ground with short grass (Johnsgard 1983) and, particularly in West Africa, it will sometimes forage and nest in upland areas (del Hoyo et al. 1996), rice fields, wet crop fields and even abandoned fields (Meine and Archibald 1996). It prefers to roost in large trees, but will use small trees or shallow water when necessary (Johnsgard 1983). Non-breeding During the non-breeding season it congregates in larger permanent wetlands, and often forages near herds of domestic livestock (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Meine and Archibald 1996) or even in rubbish dumps (Johnsgard 1983). Diet This species is a generalist omnivore (Williams et al. 2003). Its primary food source is small grain crops (45%), with small plants, small invertebrates and small vertebrates also featuring in the diet (Williams et al. 2003). It will take insects (grasshoppers, flies), molluscs, millipedes, crustaceans, fish, amphibians, reptiles, seed heads, grass tips and agricultural grain (corn, rice, millet) (Urban et al. 1986, del Hoyo et al. 1996). Breeding site Nests are built on the ground in densely vegetated wetlands (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Meine and Archibald 1996). The nest consists of a round, loosely constructed platform of reeds and grasses placed in short grass marsh in several centimetres of water, or occasionally on dry land (Urban et al. 1986). Its base is often over a metre in diameter (Urban et al. 1986). Clutch-size is c.2.5 eggs per nest. Incubation lasts 22-25 days, and chicks are able to fly when 35-40 days old (Dodman et al. 2014).


Habitat loss and degradation are significant threats, occurring through drought, wetland drainage and conversion for agriculture, overgrazing, fire, agricultural and industrial pollution, industrial construction and dam construction (flooding wetlands upstream and dessicating those downstream) (Meine and Archibald 1996, Williams et al. 2003, Beilfuss et al. 2007, T. Dodman in litt. 2009). Droughts have both directly and indirectly impacted this species's habitat, since they force people to migrate to relatively moist, less populated regions, which are then subjected to the associated pressures mentioned above (Williams et al. 2003). Considerable hunting pressures also exist (P. Hall in litt. 1999, Beilfuss et al. 2007, Kone 2007, Morrison 2009), including capture and sale of live birds, some destined for legal international markets (over 7,000 birds since 1985 when the species was listed on CITES Appendix II [UNEP-WCMC CITES Trade Database, January 2005]). Parts of dead Black Crowned-cranes, notably the head and wings, are used in traditional healing (Williams et al. 2003). In addition, indiscriminate pesticide application may be leading to harmful bio-accumulation of toxins (E. T. C. Williams in litt. 2000), and direct poisoning to reduce crop depredation has been reported in East Africa (Williams et al. 2003). Warfare and political instability affects nations across the range of the species, and may have particularly impacted upon those in South Sudan where the implementation of conservation measures has not been able to proceed (Williams et al. 2003), and remains problematic. Oil exploration in and near the wetlands also poses a threat (Williams et al. 2003).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. Listing under Appendix I has been pursued in the past (R. Beilfuss in litt. 2004), and recently CITES suspended trade in this species in Sudan, South Sudan and Guinea (Anon. 2013). A collaborative project was launched in 1999 to determine the population size and trend, distribution and threats, and to draft an action plan for the species (E. T. C. Williams in litt. 2000). There have been subsequent small-scale conservation projects including surveys/awareness (in the rice-growing region of the coastal zone of West Africa from Senegal to Guinea-Bissau, and in Ethiopia), assessments (Senegal Delta, Nigeria), monitoring at various sites across the range and investigations into trade and other threats (Mali, Guinea, Sudan) (Aynalem et al. 2014, Dodman et al. 2014, T. Dodman in litt. 2016). There are plans to produce an updated conservation action plan through an international stakeholder workshop, whilst a few West African countries are preparing national action plans for this species (K. Morrison and T. Dodman in litt. 2016).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct standardised and coordinated surveys to assess the species's total population size, and the size of different subpopulations (T. Dodman in litt. 2016). Monitor population trends through regular standardised surveys. Monitor rates of habitat loss and degradation. Monitor levels of hunting pressure. Discourage hunting and irresponsible pesticide use through awareness campaigns, and develop actions to reduce and minimise all forms of trade (local and international) (T. Dodman in litt. 2016). Improve the viability of sub-populations with management interventions at key sites, especially breeding areas (T. Dodman in litt. 2016). Consider options for eventual reintroduction to areas where the species no longer exists, e.g. northern Nigeria (T. Dodman in litt. 2016). Source resources for the implementation for conservation action plans for this species (T. Dodman in litt. 2016). 


Text account compilers
Calvert, R., Evans, M., Khwaja, N., Malpas, L., O'Brien, A., Pilgrim, J., Stattersfield, A., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Westrip, J.

Hall, P., Morrison, K., Dodman, T., Beilfuss, R., Williams, E.T.C.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Balearica pavonina. Downloaded from on 04/12/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 04/12/2022.