Grey Crowned Crane Balearica regulorum


Justification of Red List category
This species has been uplisted to Endangered because threats such as habitat loss and the illegal removal of birds and eggs from the wild have driven very rapid declines during the past three generations (45 years).

Population justification
The current population size has recently been estimated at 26,500-33,500 (Morrison in press) and is placed in the 20,00-49,999 range. This roughly equates to 17,700-22,300 mature individuals

Trend justification
Overall estimates suggest that the species’s global population has declined from over 100,000 individuals in 1985 to 50,000-64,000 individuals in 2004 (Beilfuss et al. 2007). This implies that the species may have declined by over 50% in 19 years, and when these data are extrapolated to a period of 45 years in the past (1967-2012) or past and future (1985-2030), assuming an exponential trend, the calculated rate of decline is c.65-79% (Beilfuss et al. 2007, Morrison et al. 2007, K. Morrison in litt. 2011, National Biodiversity Data Bank in prep.). Declines are attributed primarily to habitat loss and fragmentation and illegal removal of birds and eggs from the wild for food, traditional use, domestication and the international illegal trade market.

Distribution and population

Balearica regulorum occurs in eastern and southern Africa, with B. r. gibbericeps occurring from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya south through Tanzania to Mozambique, and nominate race B. r. regulorum found from Mozambique south through Zimbabwe to South Africa and west in small numbers to Namibia and Angola. Populations in many areas including Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Namibia have experienced very rapid declines (Beilfuss et al. 2007, K. Morrison in litt. 2011, O. Mabhachi in litt. 2012, A. Scott in litt. 2012, National Biodiversity Data Bank in prep.), although the South African population appears to be stable or increasing (Beilfuss et al. 2007). The largest remaining populations are believed to be in Kenya (10,000-12,500 individuals in 2014), Uganda (500-8,000 individuals), Zambia (2,000-2,500 individuals), and South Africa (6,500 birds) (Morrison in press).


Behaviour This species is not migratory although it may make variable local and seasonal movements depending on the abundance and distribution of food, nest-sites and rainfall (del Hoyo et al. 1996). The timing of breeding varies in relation to the rains, with the breeding of East African populations peaking during dry periods, but with the breeding of populations in the drier parts of southern Africa peaking during wet periods (del Hoyo et al. 1996). The species nests in solitary territorial pairs (Urban et al. 1986, Hockey et al. 2005) but often flocks together (del Hoyo et al. 1996) and roosts communally at night (Hockey et al. 2005) in groups of up to 20-200 individuals (Urban et al. 1986) during dry periods in the drier part of its range (e.g. Namibia and South Africa) (del Hoyo et al. 1996). The abundance and distribution of food and suitable nesting sites are the key ecological factors determining the size of the home range of this species and the extent of local and seasonal population movements (Meine and Archibald 1996). Habitat The species inhabits wetlands such as marshes, pans and dams with tall emergent vegetation (Hockey et al. 2005), riverbanks (Meine and Archibald 1996), open riverine woodland, shallowly flooded plains (Urban et al. 1986) and temporary pools (del Hoyo et al. 1996) with adjacent grasslands, open savannas, croplands (del Hoyo et al. 1996) (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Meine and Archibald 1996), pastures, fallow fields and irrigated areas (del Hoyo et al. 1996). It shows a preference for short to medium height open grasslands adjacent to wetlands for foraging (Meine and Archibald 1996), and breeds within or at the edges of wetlands (Meine and Archibald 1996) especially in marshes with water 1 m deep and with emergent vegetation 1 m above the water (Urban et al. 1986). It roosts in water along rivers or in marshes, or perches on nearby trees (Urban et al. 1986, Meine and Archibald 1996). A Maxent-modelling study showed that while wetlands are important for the species in Uganda, temperature seasonality can also be important (Stabach et al. 2009). Diet The species is a generalist, its diet consisting of seed heads (e.g. of sedges Cyperus spp.), new tips of grasses (del Hoyo et al. 1996), agricultural pulses, nuts and grain (Meine and Archibald 1996), insects (Orthoptera, larval Lepidoptera), frogs, lizards and crabs Potamon spp. (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Breeding site The nest is a circular platform of uprooted grasses and sedges (del Hoyo et al. 1996) concealed in tall emergent vegetation (greater than 1 m in height) (Urban et al. 1986, Meine and Archibald 1996) in or along the margins of wetlands such as marshes (del Hoyo et al. 1996) with water c.1 m deep (Urban et al. 1986). The species may also rarely nest in trees (del Hoyo et al. 1996).


The species is threatened by the loss and degradation of wetland breeding areas through drought-related changes in land-use (such as for cultivation [T. Fakarayi in litt. 2016]), drainage and overgrazing (del Hoyo et al. 1996) (e.g. uncontrolled cattle grazing [Kampamba and Pope 1996]), as well as through the heavy use of agricultural pesticides (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Meine and Archibald 1996), declines in fallowing practices, high sedimentation rates (del Hoyo et al. 1996) (due to deforestation [Meine and Archibald 1996]), uncontrolled grass and deep litter fires in the breeding season (Kampamba and Pope 1996), dam construction (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Meine and Archibald 1996) (for hydroelectric power generation [Kampamba and Pope 1996]) and groundwater extraction, leading to changes in hydrological regimes (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Meine and Archibald 1996) (e.g. unseasonal flooding [Kampamba and Pope 1996]). The species is also threatened by live-trapping (for trade), egg-collecting and hunting (Meine and Archibald 1996, Kampamba and Pope 1996, Olupot et al. 2009), and by indirect disturbance from the hunting of large mammals or ducks in wetlands and the activities of fisheries (Kampamba and Pope 1996). Preliminary studies of information from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Namibia have shown that that the illegal captive trade is particularly significant from Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda (Morrison 2008, 2009), with the demand being domestic (South Africa and Rwanda) and from the Middle/Far East, and specifically relating to the pet trade, captive facilities and informal zoos (K. Morrison in litt. 2011). Due to human population pressure, the cranes are increasingly living in closer proximity to people, exposing them to disturbance and making them more vulnerable to hunting (W. Olupot in litt. 2011, O. Mabhachi in litt. 2012). It is also persecuted in some areas (e.g. southern Africa) due to its use of agricultural land for foraging, as it will destroy maize crops at their early stage of germination (Hockey et al. 2005, T. Fakarayi in litt. 2016). Research has found that large numbers of Grey Crowned-cranes are killed annually by poisoning in Kenya, mainly as retaliation or to prevent of crop damage (Morrison 2008, 2009). In South Africa in particular, an increase of coal mining is threatening much of the grassland/wetland habitat where the species breeds (K. Morrison in litt. 2011). Mortality of birds due to electrocution and collision with overhead power lines is a serious threat in Uganda, South Africa and Tanzania and is likely to increase significantly in the future, across its entire range (K. Morrison in litt. 2011, J. Harris in litt. 2012).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. Community-based wetland conservation projects have been undertaken in Kenya, with some captive breeding populations established (ARKive, Morrison 2014). The current single species action plan is undergoing revision by Wetlands International / IUCN Crane Specialist Group, and a new plan was endorsed at the AEWA MoP in November 2015 (Morrsion in press). Monitoring occurs in at least parts of its range by the International Waterbird Census (>10 records received in >50% of the years that the census has been running in the relevant region); in Botswana by BirdLife Botswana; in South Africa, Grey Crowned Cranes are monitored through the Avifaunal Road Counts coordinated by the Animal Demographic Unit at the University of Cape Town and through annual aerial surveys conducted by the EWT and Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife over the range of the species in KwaZulu-Natal, and in Zambia regular surveys for cranes are conducted in Lochinvar, Blue Lagoon, Kafue, South Luangwa, Chikuni, Nsumbu and Liuwa National Parks (K. Morrison in litt. 2016). In Zimbabwe Local Community Conservation Groups/Site Support Groups in Driefontein Grasslands are actively involved in raising the awareness of this species (T. Fakarayi in litt. 2016), and in Rwanda conservation efforts of the International Crane Foundation have started around Rugezi Marsh (Beilfuss and Morrison 2012). This species is listed as Endangered in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, and Uganda, and Critically Endangered in Namibia (Morrison and Smith 2015, Simmons 2015, WCS 2016).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct standardised and coordinated surveys to assess the species's total population size. Monitor population trends through regular standardised surveys and extend captive breeding efforts. Monitor rates of habitat loss and degradation, and attempt to restore the habitat. Raise awareness of this species and land use practices that would be more beneficial for this species. Monitor levels of hunting pressure. Discourage hunting and irresponsible pesticide use through awareness campaigns. Improve species protection and increase enforcement of hunting legislation.


Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Derhé, M., Ekstrom, J., Khwaja, N., Malpas, L., Symes, A., Westrip, J.

Willems, F., Plumptre, A., Jordan, M., Coetzee, R., Harris, J., Fakarayi, T., Scott, M., Nsabagasani, C., Scott, A., Westphal, K., Deliry, C., Morrison, K., Olupot, W., Dodman, T., Mabhachi, O.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2024) Species factsheet: Balearica regulorum. Downloaded from https://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/grey-crowned-crane-balearica-regulorum on 23/02/2024.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2024) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from https://datazone.birdlife.org on 23/02/2024.