The Highlands Crane Group
The Highlands Crane Group has been in the area since 1992 working on crane conservation. This includes the habitat of cranes: grasslands, which are water catchments areas, and wetlands, which filter and store water. The Highlands Crane Group feels that working with communities and landowners is the answer to looking after vital catchments and cranes. Communities are encouraged to take responsibility for wetland conservation.
The Highlands Crane Group has been concerned about the state of the wetlands and catchments in the Dullstroom / Steenkampsberg area. Dullstroom and its environs have grown dramatically in the last 15 years mainly due to tourism and the fly-fishing industry. As important as these industries are, they have put a great strain on water resources.
For more information visit: www.ewt.org.za/cranes
Wattled Crane (Bugeranaus carunculatus)
The Wattled Crane is the largest African crane and is usually found in flocks of 10 to 40 individuals during non-breeding periods. Once they reach breeding age at 7 or 8 years, Wattled Cranes are monogamous and mating pairs, once established, probably endure through their 20-30 year life span although they can live longer. During the year, these pairs remain in close proximity to one another even when they join larger flocks.
Once their nest site has been carefully chosen, with a minimum of 500m between them and their neghbours, then the complex mating rituals can begin. Wattled cranes have an elaborate courtship dance which is accompanied by a low purring like noise and culminates in a long session of preening. To form their nest, which is fiercely defended by the male, the cranes create a vegetation mound of grasses and sedges, tossing the torn material over their shoulders as they walk away from the nest site, eventually pilling up sufficient vegetation to from a secure, dry, mat.
The Wattled Crane is mostly an opportunist feeder but its long bill has been designed to digging up a remarkably wide variety of plant and animal foods. In the Kafue wetlands the cranes survive on a mixed diet of roots, bulbs, rhizomes, tubers, sprouts, stems, and crustaceans, small fish, and frogs. The female usually only lays one egg a year and even if the pair do have a second, it is possibly only for insurance as they only ever rear one chick. If the second egg hatches the chick is abandoned and eventually dies. Some crane conservation projects take advantage of this, adopting the abandoned chick and raising it for eventual release into safe habitats. The survival of the one chick is by no means certain. With the threat of fire, predation and human disturbance the success rate is no better than one in four.
Cranes have strong imprinting instincts and hand reared chicks must be raised by humans wearing crane costumes. A crane chick raised by a chicken thinks it is a chicken and one raised by a person thinks it is human. If this is not done properly unfortunate, and infertile, choices can be made by the cranes when they reach sexual maturity. Feeding on bulbs, corns and insects the chicks are capable of swimming and walking straight after hatching. The chicks grow rapidly, and are as tall as their parents at three months, and can fly by four months.
The threats facing cranes are many. The damming of rivers or water for irrigation, can cause massive habitat destruction; as can drainage of wetlands to provide grazing or arable land; timber plantations in the catchments area also destabilize the breeding grounds.
The Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradiseus), also known as the Stanley Crane and the Paradise Crane, is the national bird of South Africa. It is a tall, ground-dwelling bird, but is fairly small by the standards of the crane family. It is 100–120 cm (40–47 in) tall and weighs from 4 to 6.2 kg (8.8-13.6 lbs). This crane is pale blue-gray in colour with a white crown, a pink bill, and long, dark gray wingtip feathers which trail to the ground.
Blue Cranes are birds of the dry, grassy uplands which feed on seeds and insects and spend little time in wetlands. They are altitudinal migrants, generally nesting in the upper grasslands and moving down to lower altitudes for winter. Many occupy agricultural areas.
Of the species of crane, the Blue Crane has the most restricted distribution of all.The Blue Crane is a bird very special to the amaXhosa, who call it indwe. When a man distinguished himself by deeds of valour, or any form of meritorious conduct, he was often decorated by a chief by being presented with the feathers of this bird. After a battle, the chief would organise a ceremony called ukundzabela – a ceremony for the heroes, at which feathers would be presented. Men so honoured – they wore the feathers sticking out of their hair – were known as men of ugaba (trouble) - the implication being that if trouble arose, these men would reinstate peace and order.
The Blue Crane is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.
The Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum) is a bird in the crane family Gruidae. It occurs in dry savannah in Africa south of the Sahara, although it nests in somewhat wetter habitats. This animal does not migrate.
There are two subspecies. The East African B. r. gibbericeps (Crested Crane) occurs from eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo through Uganda, of which it is the national bird, and Kenya to eastern South Africa. It has a larger area of bare red facial skin above the white patch than the smaller nominate species, B. r. regulorum (South African Crowned Crane), which breeds from Angola south to South Africa.
This species and the closely related Black Crowned Crane are the only cranes that can roost in trees, because of a long hind toe that can grasp branches. This habit, amongst other things, is a reason why the relatively small Balearica cranes are believed to closely resemble the ancestral members of the Gruidae.
The Grey Crowned Crane has a breeding display involving dancing, bowing, and jumping. It has a booming call which involves inflation of the red gular sac. It also makes a honking sound quite different from the trumpeting of other crane species.
The nest is a platform of grass and other plants in tall wetland vegetation. The Grey Crowned Crane lays a clutch of 2-5 eggs. Incubation is performed by both sexes and lasts 28–31 days. Chicks fledge at 56–100 days.
The Grey Crowned Crane is about 1 m (3.3 ft) tall and weighs 3.5 kg (7.7 lbs). Its body plumage is mainly grey. The wings are also predominantly white, but contain feathers with a range of colours. The head has a crown of stiff golden feathers. The sides of the face are white, and there is a bright red inflatable throat pouch. The bill is relatively short and grey, and the legs are black. The sexes are similar, although males tend to be slightly larger. Young birds are greyer than adults, with a feathered buff face.
Although the Grey Crowned Crane remains common over much of its range, it faces threats to its habitat due to drainage, overgrazing, and pesticide pollution.
Like all cranes, it feeds on insects and other invertebrates, reptiles, small mammals, as well as grass seeds.