Half the world’s population of Blue Cranes, a vulnerable and beautiful icon of South Africa’s wildlife lives in the country’s southern wheat belt.
By Rex Graham
A smaller flock in Namibia takes advantage of the vast salt pans of Etosha National Park to breed August through April. (Farther south, egg laying occurs between October and December.) The park’s abundant wildlife congregates at its waterholes.
The Blue Cranes is 1 of only 2 crane species that prefers dry habitat, (the Demoiselle Crane is the other) although they prefer to roost communally at night in shallow bodies of water. Pair-formation starts in early October. Most eggs are laid in December. November is an ideal time to witness 2 weeks of courtship that ends with copulation. Females lay 2 eggs per nesting season, and pairs remain together for years.
Blue Crane crazy dancing
They have long necks and legs and are one of any tallest flying bird, and the male’s courtship dance is a wild celebration of buoyant gawkiness.
Each one tries to establish dominance in a group of other males by pecking, kicking and calling. The competition escalates into spirited running in circles or in straight lines, and jumping into the air completed with the zestful wing-flapping dance.
Similarly colored ladies are watching from a safe distance. Upon picking her mate, a female replicates the male’s displays, with the dancing apparently the most important piece. Feathers on the back of their heads are elongated, which gives them an eccentric cobra look.
Many cranes don’t breed every year. The tendency of all cranes to congregate in flocks in farmers’ fields has led to retribution-poisonings of most species, including the Blue.
Blue Cranes share the spotlight
The Etosha game park is most known for its lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, gemsbok and other mammals. The Blue Cranes add a wild avian element. They are often seen with Kori Bustards, Northern Black Korhaans, Pygmy Falcons, Red-necked Falcons, and other raptors, owls, Pink-billed Lark, Chestnut Weaver, Damara Hornbill and many other birds. The cranes prefer wild habitat in the breeding season and cultivated pastures and harvested cereal crop fields at other times.
The park doesn’t have power lines, which are more dangerous to the cranes. In the Cape region of South Africa Blue Cranes were rarely seen 200 years ago. But with intense wheat farming, the cranes moved in. In addition to persecution from some farmers, power lines are extremely dangerous: 1 crane per year dies for every kilometer of power lines in South Africa’s Overberg area.