Bio Facts: Crane, Wattled
Ethiopia and south-central Africa, with the largest populations occurring in southern Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana. Smaller populations are scattered in the Democratic Republic of Congo, western and southwestern Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, northern Namibia and southern Angola.
Preferred nesting and feeding habitat is extensive sedge and grass-dominated wetlands in the floodplains of rivers, they also make use of smaller wetlands throughout the range.
At a height of up to nearly 6 feet (175 cm), it is the largest crane in Africa and is the second tallest species of crane, after the Sarus Crane. The wingspan is 90-102 in. (230-260 cm), the length is typically 47 in. (120 cm) and weight is 14-17.6 lbs (6.4-7.9 kg) in females, 16.5-20 lbs (7.5-9 kg) in males. The back and wings are ashy gray. The feathered portion of the head is dark slate gray above the eyes and on the crown, but is otherwise white, including the wattles, which are almost fully feathered and hang down from under the upper throat. The breast, primaries, secondaries, and tail coverts are black. The secondaries are long and nearly reach the ground. The upper breast and neck are white all the way to the face. The skin in front of the eye extending to the base of the beak and tip of the wattles is red and bare of feathers and covered by small round wart-like bumps. Wattled cranes have long bills and black legs and toes. Males and females are virtually indistinguishable, although males tend to be slightly larger. Juveniles have tawny body plumage, lack the bare skin on the face, and have less prominent wattles.
In the wild, they feed primarily on aquatic vegetation and forage for seed, grains and insects. In the Zoo, they are fed a scientifically developed, commercially available food, supplemented with fresh greens, crickets, mealworms and mice.
IUCN – Vulnerable; CITES – Appendix II
This species is typically seen in pairs or in a trio consisting of a breeding pair with a juvenile. Nesting pairs hold a large territory, which can often be greater than 1 km² in size. They nest in shallow wetlands where they are unlikely to be disturbed by humans. In Zambia, Botswana and Mozambique, nesting occurs in August and September when flooding is at its peak and the risk of nest flooding is minimized. The chicks are reared as the floodwater retreats. In southern Africa, breeding usually occurs in July and August when it is drier and colder, and the population in Ethiopia breeds in May and June as the wet season starts. Usually, a single egg is produced, and if two eggs are laid, just one chick will be reared. The incubation period is the longest of any crane species at 33 - 36 days. The fledging period is also the longest of any crane, at 90 - 130 days, and means that the chicks are particularly at risk from predation.
Cranes have very complex social behaviors and body language plays an important role in communication and reproduction. Courtship displays often include leaping, dancing and stick throwing. These displays can last from a few seconds to several minutes.
The wattled crane feeds on tubers and rhizomes of aquatic plants, but they will also take seeds, spilled grain, insects and small vertebrates in drier habitats. This is a non-migratory species, but local-scale movements do occur in response to the availability of water.
The cranes’ long legs and excellent peripheral vision enable them to spot predators.
The wattled crane occurs in eleven sub-Saharan countries in Africa, including an isolated population in the highlands of Ethiopia. More than half of the world’s wattled cranes occur in Zambia, but the single largest concentration occurs in the Okavango Delta of Botswana. Wattled cranes are thought to have historically ranged over a much larger area including coastal West Africa.
In Ethiopia, wattled cranes take advantage of beetle larvae and other invertebrates that occur in the spoil heaps created by the giant molerat.
During nesting season a pair of wattled cranes defends a territory of more than 200 acres.
A genetic diversity study published in 2005, showed that the South African wattled crane is genetically unique to wattled cranes living in other parts of Africa. There are currently only 234 of these individuals left in the wild. The captive population worldwide consists of 24 individuals.
Some of the African people living among the cranes believe these birds bring rain - others incorporate the crane dances into their own rituals.
The wattled crane is the most wetland-dependent of Africa’s crane species, and its distribution is reliant upon annual river basin flood patterns. Destruction, alteration, and degradation of wetland habitats constitute the most significant threats to the wattled crane. Hydroelectric power projects and other water development have caused fundamental changes in the species expansive floodplain habitats, and their most important food source Eleocharis spp. Human and livestock disturbance, powerline collisions, mass aerial spraying of tsetse flies, and illegal collection of eggs, chicks and adults for food are also significant threats to wattled cranes throughout their range.
The wattled crane is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.
The African Wattled Crane Program (AWAC) is a partnership between the International Crane Foundation, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (South Africa), and organizations and individuals in the eleven nations where Wattled Cranes occur. The program seeks to conserve wattled cranes and their habitats by promoting cooperation in and among African nations in partnership with people who depend on these same habitats. AWAC conservation programs include research, management, capacity building, and education/awareness. From 2000-2003, AWAC partners conducted an intensive, range-wide survey to assess the global status and population of the species. Major field programs for wattled cranes are underway in Mozambique, Botswana, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and South Africa.
Wattled Cranes kept in zoological institutions around the world help to serve as a genetic reservoir in the event of catastrophic loss in the wild. Wattled cranes can be difficult to breed in captivity. Fertility, hatching and fledging rates are low compared to other species. Assisted reproduction techniques developed by aviculturist may one day prove useful to the success of supplementation and reintroduction efforts in Africa. The South African Crane Working Group (EWT) is currently conducting a Wattled Crane Recovery Programme. Second eggs which are abandoned by the parents in the wild are collected for a breeding program with the eventually aim of releasing the offspring back into the wild.
Jacksonville Zoo History:
Wattled cranes have been part of our collection since 2007.