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Crane, Indian Sarus

Sarus Crane at the LA Zoo Photo Credit: Jamie Pham

Scientific Name: Grus antigone

The sarus crane is the world’s tallest flying bird, standing up to six feet tall and with a nine-foot wingspan.

In many Asian cultures, the bird is the symbol of a happy marriage because it performs elaborate courtship dances and mates for life.

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Sarus cranes return to the same breeding grounds for up to 5 years and both male and female will build the nest, incubate two eggs for 31 to 34 days and raise the young. Chicks fledge (are able to fly) at around three months. The ground nests are constructed of marsh vegetation and are found in the shallow waters of natural wetlands, canals, irrigation ditches, ponds and rice paddies.

Mated sarus cranes perform a loud behavior known as unison calling in which the female will begin a long and complex series of socalizations which harmonize with the male’s trumpeting. The female will emit two calls for each one of the male’s sounds. While the male will lift his wings over his back during this display, the female keeps her wings at her sides. Sarus cranes, like other cranes, also engage in “dancing” which includes bowing, hopping, wing flapping and stick or grass tossing. This behavior usually occurs during the breeding season.

These birds are classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because of a rapid population loss caused by the widespread destruction and pollution of their habitat. They have few natural predators because of their large size but unprotected eggs may be stolen by jackals and birds of prey. While humans sometimes hunt adult birds and collect eggs and chicks, local traditions and religious beliefs have protected the species in some areas.

The three sub-species of sarus cranes live in northern and central India, Nepal and Pakistan; Cambodia, southern Laos, south Vietnam, and Myanmar; and north and east Australia. They have widely varying habitats including seasonal marshes, floodplains, high-altitude wetlands, man-made ponds, fallow and cultivated fields and rice paddies. The birds are generally non-migratory in India, but may travel short distances between wet and dry season habitats in southeast Asia and Australia.

The sarus crane is omnivorous, eating insects, aquatic plants and crustaceans, seeds and berries, small vertebrates like frogs, invertebrates and even water snakes!

The bodies of these elegant birds are covered with light gray feathers. Their heads are crowned with smooth, greenish skin while the rest of the head, throat and upper neck are a bright orange or red. This skin becomes deeper and brighter in color during the mating season. A few gray-white feathers mark the side of the face and long, black bristles appear on the neck and throat. Their legs and toes are pinkish red and their long, pointed bills are pale gray. Male and female birds look alike although the male is somewhat larger. Sarus cranes are powerful fliers.

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