Sometimes it’s pretty easy to find an animal to write about. For today’s post, I simply googled ‘World’s tallest crane’ and discovered the sarus crane. I was in the mood for drawing cranes, so everything just kind of fell into place. I love it when that happens.
Sarus cranes are found in India, Nepal, Southeast Asia and Australia. The primary habitat of sarus cranes is wetlands, though they also make use of agricultural areas. Specifically, sarus cranes like to hang out in flooded rice paddies. Sarus cranes generally aren’t migratory, though just to make things a bit complicated, some populations in Australia have been known to migrate.
I mentioned that sarus cranes are tall, but how tall is tall? Well, they are the world’s tallest crane, but also hold the title of the tallest flying birds in the world. They stand 1.8 m tall and have wingspans of two and a half meters. Males are larger than females, and the cranes weigh from five to twelve kilograms. Sarus cranes have distinctive markings, with grey bodies accentuated by bright red bare patches of skin on their heads and necks, and black tips on their wings. They also have white crowns and white patches behind their eyes.
The wetland habitats that sarus cranes inhabit are full of tasty morsels that the cranes feed on. They eat a lot of different things, including plants, seeds, insects, frogs, and crustaceans. The cranes have long attractive bills that help them sift through the mud while they wade through fetid fens.
Sarus cranes mate from July to October, during the monsoon season. All cranes have long, twisted tracheas that allow them to produce impressive trumpeting calls. Sarus cranes use these calls during the breeding season, when they are forming pair bonds. Other courtship rituals include jumping, bowing, and circling one another. Pair bonds last from season to season, and the cranes are seen as a symbol of fidelity in India, thanks to their strong monogamous relationships.
Not all nests are created equal, and sarus cranes certainly go out of their way to build spectacular nests. They can be over two meters wide and almost a meter tall, and are built in shallow marshes or paddy fields. Some birds try to hide their nests to protect their young, but not sarus cranes — their nests can be easily seen from a distance. I suppose if you spend a lot of time building such a grand nest you’d want to show it off. The birds return to the nesting site year after year, repairing their nest and reusing it for up to five years.
They usually lay one to two eggs, and both sexes help incubate and protect the eggs. Eggs are vulnerable to predators, as well as collection by humans for various reasons. The success rate for raising chicks is estimated to be about 20-58%, depending on location. The eggs hatch after about a month, and are able to follow their parents and forage for food within a few days. They don’t leave the safety of their parents until the next breeding season, however. Sarus cranes are thought to reach sexual maturity around five years of ages.
Though sarus cranes are considered to be sacred, and are generally left alone by humans, their populations are still small. They are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN, with the main threats being habitat destruction and hunting in some areas. Though they have adapted well to human disturbance, in areas where wetlands are drained for agricultural use, the cranes cannot survive. Hopefully protection measures and continued rice farming will allow these magnificent birds to continue to survive.
Cover image by J.M.Garg, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons