Photo of the Month: East African Crowned Crane

By Megan Runquist Holmstedt

East African Crowned Crane; PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Pham

East African Crowned Crane; PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Pham

Status: This species is listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to habitat loss and fragmentation and the illegal removal of birds and eggs from the wild for food, domestication, and the illegal wildlife trade. These threats have driven the birds’ population into steep decline over the past 45 years.

Habitat: The east African crowned crane, also known as the gray-crowned crane, inhabits the open grasslands, marshes, and meadows bordering the lakes and streams of eastern Africa: from southeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Kenya south through Tanzania to northern Mozambique.

Diet: Like all cranes, this species is omnivorous. In addition to grasses, seeds, and grain, it eats invertebrates including insects, worms, and millipedes and small animals such as crabs and lizards. Because of its proximity to humans, this bird will also eat the seeds sown in newly plowed fields, which can result in conflicts with local villagers.

A relatively small crane, the east African species stands about three feet high, has a wingspan of roughly five feet, and can weigh up to 15 pounds; it is very similar in size and plumage to the west African crowned crane species. Unlike other cranes, crowned cranes possess an elevated hind toe that allows them to roost in trees–an uncommon habit in ground-nesting birds.

The east African crowned crane is the national bird of Uganda and is featured on the nation’s flag and coat of arms.

A pair of these birds can be seen in the roundhouse across from the hippo exhibit, near the Papiano Play Park.