Standing only three feet tall, demoiselle cranes are the smallest of the world’s 15 crane species. They are easily recognized by their coloration – grey body, black wing tips, black neck and head, and long, white ear tufts.
What They Eat
Demoiselle crane diet consists mostly of seeds, but also insects, lizards, worms and small mammals. They are sometimes considered agricultural pests because they eat peanuts, beans and cereal crops.
Where They Live
Each year these migratory birds fly between northern breeding areas in central Eurasia, and wintering areas in Africa and southern Asia. They are found in a variety of habitats including grasslands, semi-arid savannahs, high plateaus and deserts.
What They Do
Demoiselle cranes gather into large flocks when overwintering and migrating, but tend to be found in small family groups during the rest of the year. During breeding season, pairs have elaborate calls and courtship displays that involve dancing, bowing, leaping and picking up and tossing objects into the air.
How They’re Doing
The population of demoiselle cranes appears to be increasing. However, threats to these cranes include habitat loss and degradation, hunting, and persecution as a crop pest.
- Demoiselle cranes are named for their delicate, maiden-like appearance. The French word demoiselle means “young lady.”
- During migration, some demoiselle cranes fly over the Himalaya mountain range at altitudes up to 26,000 feet!
- Demoiselle cranes are monogamous, remaining with the same partner for life.
- Pairs of demoiselle cranes have elaborate vocalizations and will call in unison for up to a minute.
- Prior to breeding, pairs perform intricate dances. The birds start by taking little steps, walking stiffly around each other with their wings partially spread, then dip their heads and bow to each other. Next, they pick up sticks and grass, throw them into the air and stab at the falling debris with their beaks. This behavior can be contagious to nearby cranes who will sometimes circle the pair or join in the dancing.
- Demoiselle crane nests are simple scrapes on the ground in open patches of grass, in agricultural areas, or on gravel.
- A typical demoiselle crane nest contains two eggs that are mostly yellow-green in color.
- The female crane does the majority of the incubation of eggs, but the male will occasionally sit on the nest. Once chicks hatch, they are cared for by both parents.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists demoiselle cranes as being at “least concern” for extinction. This species occurs in six sub-populations spread across three continents. The global population of demoiselle cranes is increasing and is estimated to contain 230,000-261,000 individuals. However, some of the sub-populations are decreasing. While demoiselle cranes are legally protected in some areas such as Russia and Ukraine, the majority of the population remains unprotected. Threats to demoiselle cranes include habitat loss and degradation, hunting and persecution as a crop pest.