Grus leucogeranusSiberian crane

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Geographic Range

Siberian cranes have three regional populations: eastern, central, and western. These populations range from arctic Russia in Yakutia to western Siberia. The central population breeds on the basin of the Kunovat river in Russia. During winter, these cranes migrate to the Keoladeo National Park, India. Between the Kolyma and Yana rivers and south to the Morma mountains is the range of the eastern breeding population. Non-breeding birds summer in Dauria, on the border of China, Mongolia, and Russia. Main wintering sites are in the middle to lower reaches of the Yangtze river, Poyang Hu lake, China, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan. Western populations breeding in the Tyumen District, Russia. They winter in Fereidoonkenar and Esbaran in Iran. (Johnsgard, 1983)

Habitat

Siberian cranes nest and feed primarily in bogs, marshes, and other wetlands with wide expanses of shallow fresh water and good visibility. They are found mainly in lowland tundra, taiga/tundra transition, and taiga biogeographic regions. ("Siberian Crane", 2003; Johnsgard, 1983)

Physical Description

These thin, white birds stand at 1.4 m and have wingspans of 2.1 to 2.3 m. Siberian cranes weigh 4.9 to 8.6 kg. Adults can be identified by their white plumage with the exception of the primaries, which are black. Located on the forecrown, forehead, face, and side of the head is a featherless cap which is brick red in color. Young cranes do not have this cap, instead they have feathers in that area and their plumage is cinnamon in color. The chicks eyes are blue at hatching, changing after about six months. Adult Siberian cranes have reddish or pale yellow eye color and reddish-pink legs and toes. It is difficult to distinguish males from females because they are similar in appearance; however, males tend to be slightly larger than females. A unique characteristic is their serrated bill, which aids in catching slippery prey and assists with feeding on underground roots. (Johnsgard, 1983; Walkinshaw, 1973)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    4900 to 8600 g
    172.69 to 303.08 oz
  • Range length
    1080 to 1220 mm
    42.52 to 48.03 in
  • Range wingspan
    2.1 to 2.3 m
    6.89 to 7.55 ft
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    N/A cm3.O2/g/hr

Reproduction

Grus leucogeranus individuals are monogamous. Courtship and pair bonding includes singing, known as unison calling, and dancing. Unison calling is a complex and extended series of coordinated calls. Males initiate calls by drawing their head and neck back into an S shape. They then rotate their neck downward and turn the bill toward the breast. They utter a high-pitched call while exposing the primaries, slowly turning the head until it is extended almost vertically. The neck is raised vertically during calls and lowered between calls. position of the neck is obtained with the head raised during calls and lowered between them. The wings are drooped during this time. The female joins in after the male has begun calling, holding her head upward and moving it up and down with each call in unison with the male. Rather than lifting their wings over the back, as do males, females keep them at their sides and folded. (Friedman, 1992; Johnsgard, 1983)

Breeding occurs in the spring and summer in breeding ranges. Siberian crane pairs usually nest in bogs, marshes, and other wetlands. Females lay two eggs and both males and females incubate the eggs. Incubation takes about 29 days. Both eggs hatch but only one chick typically survives and is raised. This chick fledges within 70 to 75 days and reaches sexual maturity in three years. ("Siberian Crane", 2003; Friedman, 1992; Johnsgard, 1983; Walkinshaw, 1973)

  • Breeding interval
    Siberian cranes breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from May to August.
  • Average eggs per season
    2
  • Range time to hatching
    27 to 29 days
  • Range fledging age
    70 to 75 days
  • Range time to independence
    8 to 10 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 to 7 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3 to 7 years

Males and females both incubate eggs, protect, and feed their young. Males spend more time feeding the young than do females. (Friedman, 1992; Johnsgard, 1983)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

Siberian cranes have been known to live at least sixty-two years in captivity. Records exist, however, of particular cranes living for more than eighty-two years. The lifespan of Grus leucogeranus in the wild is unknown at this time, but predicted longevity is shorter than highest lifespans reached in captivity. (Friedman, 1992)

Behavior

Unlike most cranes, G. leucogeranus is not a very social species. Individuals are territorial during both breeding and winter seasons. Family flocks are relatively small, made up of about 12 to 15 birds. Siberian cranes are the most aquatic in the genus Grus, using the wetlands for feeding, nesting, rooting, and other behavioral displays. Throughout the day birds roost in shallow water, nest, preen, and attend to their young ones during breeding season. At night, Siberian cranes rest on one leg while the head is tucked under the shoulder. (Johnsgard, 1983; Walkinshaw, 1973)

While roosting they remain separate from sarus crane groups (Grus antigone), which inhabit the same ponds. Sarus cranes are common at wintering areas and forage in habitats ranging from dry crop-lands to fairly deep water. Sarus cranes are larger, so often dominate the shallow foraging areas. (Johnsgard, 1983; Walkinshaw, 1973)

Although dancing is not directly connected with the reproductive cycle in Siberian cranes, it does reflect their excitement. A crane will dance at any time and with any, or no partner. This behavior includes leaping and bowing. The head and neck are brought forward from a fully vertical posture to a position with the neck and head reaching downward and backward between the legs. Also the dance lacks the parade step as well as throwing objects into the air.

  • Average territory size
    625 km^2

Communication and Perception

Siberian cranes use both visual and vocal displays in their pair bonding displays. Their voice has been described as melodious, yet peculiar. Vocalizations include: guard calls, flight-intention calls, contact calls, stress calls, alarm calls, food begging calls, location calls, as well as the unison call exhibited during courtship. These vocalizations are learned at an early age and maintain the social interactions of both the mating pair and the group.

Vocalization is usually complemented by visual communication in the form of dancing. Certain calls require certain body movements. The unison call mentioned in the reproductive section is a prime example of the connection between auditory and visual communication. Other forms of expression consist of tail fluttering, threat postures, such as hissing, growling, and stamping, feather ruffling, preening of the back of the thigh, flapping, and rigid strutting. It has been noted that these cranes are more vocally active in the afternoon rather than the morning, and possibly well into the evening during roosting. (Johnsgard, 1983; Walkinshaw, 1973)

  • Other Communication Modes
  • duets

Food Habits

Omnivorous in its diet, Siberian cranes eat a variety of food items. They forage during the early morning and afternoon, using their serrated bills to extract roots and tubers from wetland ponds. Siberian cranes are primarily herbivorous, but during the breeding season they include more animal matter and fruits in their diet, including insects, small mammals, snails, worms, fish, and cranberries. ("Siberian Crane", 2003; Matthiessen, 2001; Walkinshaw, 1973)

  • Animal Foods
  • mammals
  • fish
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • fruit

Predation

There is little information on possible predators. Gulls and jaegers prey on eggs on breeding grounds. ("Siberian Crane", 2003; Friedman, 1992; Johnsgard, 1983)

Ecosystem Roles

In general, Siberian cranes are omnivores in their eating habits affecting the wetland areas they reside in by feeding on plant roots and shoots. Additionally, these cranes host parasites, such as tapeworms (Cestoda) and capillarids (Capillaria). (Friedman, 1992)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The characteristic mating dances of Siberian cranes have inspired many cultures and been incorporated into their own dances. Grus leucogeranus images are found can be found on ancient cave walls dated to 6,000 years. The ancient tomb of Ti in Egypt shows an accurate picture of two cranes. Russian tradition celebrated the crane’s loyalty by songs referring to the cranes as soldiers returning to their homeland. These magnificent birds are also hunted or trapped for food or as pets. Measures have been taken to diminish certain threats by establishing sanctuaries and enforcing conservation laws. (Friedman, 1992)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Siberian cranes sometimes cause root damage to crops as they feed on roots and shoots. ("Siberian Crane", 2003; Friedman, 1992; Johnsgard, 1983)

Conservation Status

Through habitat loss and degradation, Siberian cranes are critically endangered and on the brink of extinction. The conversion of grasslands, dams and water diversion, urban expansion and land development, changes in vegetation, pollution and environmental contamination, and collision with utility lines are all threats that affect populations of G. leucogeranus. Direct exploitation through over-hunting, poaching, poisoning, and trapping are additional causes of population depletion. Of the seven species of endangered cranes, Siberian cranes are the most endangered. Breeding and wintering grounds are in constant danger of being further destroyed by human expansion. ("Siberian Crane", 2003; Friedman, 1992; Johnsgard, 1983)

Other Comments

Majestic Siberian cranes have been described as poetry in motion because of their slow and deliberate movements. Their voices are said to be flute-like tones that float down like music from the sky. Siberian cranes can call continuously when they fly during migration. The world’s oldest living bird, named "Wolf", listed in the Guiness Book of World Records, is a Siberian crane which died at the age of 82 at the International Crane Foundation in Wisconsin. Because of their known longevity, the Japanese display pictures and statues of cranes at their marriage and birth ceremonies. They are symbols of health and prosperity and a life without war, therefore these birds are the symbol of peace. (Friedman, 1992; Johnsgard, 1983)

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Catherine Bartnik (author), Kalamazoo College, Ann Fraser (editor, instructor), Kalamazoo College.

Glossary

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

bog

a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
duets

to jointly display, usually with sounds in a highly coordinated fashion, at the same time as one other individual of the same species, often a mate

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

marsh

marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

migratory

makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oriental

found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

taiga

Coniferous or boreal forest, located in a band across northern North America, Europe, and Asia. This terrestrial biome also occurs at high elevations. Long, cold winters and short, wet summers. Few species of trees are present; these are primarily conifers that grow in dense stands with little undergrowth. Some deciduous trees also may be present.

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

tundra

A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.

visual

uses sight to communicate

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born

References

Birdlife International. 2003. "Siberian Crane" (On-line). Red Data Book: Threatened Birds of Asia. Accessed October 31, 2005 at http://www.rdb.or.id/view_html.php?id=59&op=grusleuc.

Friedman, J. 1992. Operation Siberian Crane. New York: Dillon Press.

Johnsgard, P. 1983. Cranes of the World. IN: Bloomington.

Matthiessen, P. 2001. The Birds of Heaven. New York: North Point Press.

Walkinshaw, L. 1973. Cranes of the World. New York: Winchester Press.