Anthropoides virgodemoiselle crane

Geographic Range

There are six main locations of populations of Anthropoides virgo. A stable/declining population of 70 to 100,000 individuals is located in eastern Asia. In central Asia, there is a stable and increasing population of 100,000 individuals. Kalmykia is the third eastern population, which consists of 30 to 35,000 individuals, and this count is presently stable. Northern Africa holds a declining population of fifty individuals on the Atlas Plateau. The population of about 500 individuals near the Black Sea is declining, and in Turkey, there exists a small breeding population of less than 100 individuals. Demoiselle cranes are a cosmopolitan species found within the wide range of the Ethiopian, Palearctic, and Oriental regions. As demoiselles are migratory birds, their winter habitats include those of Northeastern Africa, Pakistan, and India. ("Demoiselle Crane", 2000; Meine and Archibald, 1996)


Found primarily in open spaces with a wide range of visibility, A. virgo lives in upland areas, unlike most other cranes which can be found in wetland habitat. Space and solitude are important for the maintenance of demoiselle cranes, therefore their habitats vary from semi-arid savannas, grasslands, and steppes, to high plateaus. They can also inhabit semi-deserts to true deserts as long as water is available within 200 to 500 meters. Ranging in habitat from sea level to 3,000 meters, they are usually found no farther than a few hundred meters away from rivers, for they need the source of water to survive. After migration, the wintering habitats of A. virgo include acacia savannas, grasslands, and riparian areas. ("Demoiselle Crane", 2000; "The Demoiselle", 1999; Meine and Archibald, 1996)

  • Range elevation
    sea level to 3,000 m
    to ft
  • Range depth
    N/A (low) m
    (low) ft

Physical Description

Generally, cranes are large birds, ranging from a length of 90 cm to 150 cm. Anthropoides virgo is known to be the smallest crane, with an average adult length of 90 cm. Cranes are recognized for their long necks and legs, their streamlined bodies, and long rounded wings. Demoiselle cranes can be distinguished by specific physical features and other unique characteristics. Most cranes have bare, red skin patches on their heads, however, demoiselles have a completely feathered head with a white line that extends from the corner of their red eye, to the back of their head. During display, they can elongate these feathers on the sides of their head. With feathery gray areas ranging from the crown to the nape, the bird has a dark underside, with black legs and toes. The main distinguishing features of A. virgo are their short toes and bills. Adapting to run in the grassland habitat, the toes have evolved to be shorter, as the shorter bills can forge for food more efficiently in upland areas. The length and positioning of the trachea can also distinguish a demoiselle crane from other cranes; Demoiselles have a trachea that makes a slight indentation on the sternum.

After hatching, demoiselle chicks are silver gray, and as they develop into a juvenile demoiselle, they become predominately grey at the time of fledging. This color assists in camouflaging the bird. Once developing into an adult, they appear as previously described above. An important fact about A. virgo is that the male and female are monomorphic - identical in their external features; however, the males are usually larger. ("Demoiselle Crane", 2000; Meine and Archibald, 1996)

  • Range mass
    2000 to 2700 g
    70.48 to 95.15 oz
  • Average length
    90 cm
    35.43 in
  • Range wingspan
    51 to 59 cm
    20.08 to 23.23 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    I could not recover any information on the Basal Metabolic Rate cm3.O2/g/hr


The mating system of A. virgo is monogamous. A male and a female will remain a pair for their entire lives. However, this remains true only if reproduction is successful, and reproduction is usually not successful until the age of four to eight years. The breeding season of demoiselle cranes coincides with the local rainy season, and usually takes place in the Eurasion Steppes from the Black Sea to Northeastern China. ("Demoiselle Crane", 2000; Ellis, et al., 1996; Johnsgard, 1983; Meine and Archibald, 1996)

Duets and vocalizations are extravagant mating behaviors of A. virgo. To begin, the bond between two individual cranes is formed in non-breeding flocks or in mixed flocks outside of the breeding season. This bond can be created rapidly, or it can take months of interaction. Vocalizations have a critical role in the interaction, development and maintenance of pair bonds. Developed between the ages of two to three years, demoiselles have the ability to vocalize unison calls. These calls last from a few seconds to a minute, and they allow the partners to come into a breeding condition at the same time. Unison calls also are important for the ovarian development of the female. When vocalizing a unison call, demoiselle cranes have a distinct posture where both of the individuals call with their wings closed, although the female calls with her bill pointed upward, and the male calls with the bill held horizontally. Unison calls are used to help defend mates and individuals along with various other threat postures and actual attacks. Within the pair, the male maintains a role of defense, while the female deals with more domestic affairs.

Initiated by either sex, A. virgo also perform a dance before copulation. This courtship dance strengthens the bonds between mating pairs and synchronizes sexual response. Demoiselles are more energetic and more ballet-like in their dancing compared to other cranes. Their courtship dance consists of long, intricate sequences of bows, leaps, runs, short flights, and the picking up and throwing of random objects into the air. Spectator demoiselles will often join in these dances - circling the pair, dancing, and taking to flight. ("Demoiselle Crane", 2000; Ellis, et al., 1996; Meine and Archibald, 1996)

  • Breeding interval
    These cranes breed seaonally, on average producing one clutch. Little is known of the possibility of producing more than one clutch. Growth seasons are so short that there would be little time to fledge a second clutch in time fore the preperation for migration.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding is seasonal, and directly coincides with the local rainy season. The nesting period has a duration of three to five months.
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    27 to 29 days
  • Range fledging age
    55 to 60 days
  • Range time to independence
    8 to 10 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    4 to 8 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    4 to 8 years

The cycle of reproduction has many stages. First, there is a three to five month nesting period, whereas the non-breeding period is much longer. Migrating between breeding grounds and wintering grounds, when in the breeding season, these birds nest in grasslands. Usually the nest is on the bare ground consisting of a few twigs and pebbles. On average, the clutch size of a demoiselle crane consists of two eggs that are yellow-green in color with spots of lavender. Both sexes assist with the incubation of the eggs over a period of twenty-nine days, however females perform the major part of the task. Protecting their nest, demoiselle cranes will chase dogs, foxes, and eagles without hesitation and will even receive help from several other birds to drive invaders away from the nest.

After the eggs hatch, a fledging period lasts for fifty-five to sixty days upland areas. This is the shortest fledging period out of all other cranes. Until the next breeding season, for eight to ten months immature cranes remain with their parents. After the Juvenile cranes leave their parents, they collect into non-breeding flocks and are nomadic, forging for food and roosting sites during the breeding season of the sexually mature adults. A young crane starts to exhibit adult like social behavior after eighteen months, and pairing can begin to occur, however reproduction is usually not successful until the demoiselle crane is four to eight years of age.

As discussed above, incubation lasts for a duration of twenty-seven to twenty-nine days, the fledging periods lasts from fifty-five to sixty days, and it is well up to eight to ten months before the juvenile crane is independent from his/her parents. Demoiselle cranes, like all cranes, exhibit a prolonged period of parental care. This care proceeds directly after hatching, where bill touching is iniciated by the chick, and frequently performed between chicks and parents. Associated possibly with direct feeding or begging, bill touching takes place for the chicks are fed by both parents. As the male typically takes the lead, followed by the female and chicks, gradually the adults lead the young to the food sources (rather than supplying them). The parents also provide protection for their young when enemies are encountered. Assuming an aggressive posture associated with intense threat, breeding demoiselles will utter alarm calls while directly attacking the enemy, or attempting diversionary displays while moving away from the nest. (Ellis, et al., 1996; Johnsgard, 1983; Meine and Archibald, 1996)


In captivity, the longevity of demoiselle cranes is at least twenty-seven years, though records do exist of particular cranes living a life of more than sixty-seven years! The lifespan of A. virgo in the wild is unknown presently. The marking of individuals for identification has been initiated only recently. Because life is more hazardous in the wild, the longevity of a demoiselle crane is predicted to be shorter than one living in captivity. ("Demoiselle Crane", 2000; Ellis, et al., 1996)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    27 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    unknown years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    67 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    27 years


Anthropoides virgo is both social and solitary in behavior. Besides the fundamental activities of sleeping, walking, eating etc., these birds are solitary when performing the activities of preening, bathing shaking, stretching, scratching, ruffling, and feather painting. However, in response to other cranes and other external stimuli, demoiselles are very social. Forming bonds and mating with one other individual for life, and forming flocks for migration and socialization are key factors of their social behavior. Elaborate dancing and a plethora of vocalizations are extensive forms of communication among these social birds, which is further described under the communication portion of this species account.

Diurnal in their habits, throughout the day demoiselle cranes forage, preen, nest, and attend to their young during the breeding season. During the non-breeding season, these birds socialize within flocks. At night, roosting provides security, as they rest on one leg with their head and neck tucked under/on a shoulder.

Demoiselles are migratory birds, and will fly at high altitudes, and travel long distances between their breeding and wintering grounds. Between August and September, A. virgo will collect into flocks of up to 400 individuals and will migrate to their winter ranges. As they fly, their head and neck are extended straight forward as the feet and legs are lengthened directly behind. They generally prefer to migrate at low altitudes, but altitudes of 16,000 to 26,000 feet are reached by some demoiselles that migrate through the Himalayan Mountain passes to their wintering grounds in India. These cranes can be found flocking with Eurasian cranes in their wintering grounds; although, they do maintain separate social groups within these larger flocks. During the months of March and April, A. virgo flies north again to their nesting grounds. The flocks during this returning migration only ranges from four to ten birds. Moreover, throughout the breeding season, these cranes feed in the company of up to seven cranes. ("Demoiselle Crane", 2000; Ellis, et al., 1996; "The Demoiselle", 1999; Johnsgard, 1983; Meine and Archibald, 1996)

  • Range territory size
    10 to 100 km^2

Home Range

Home ranges vary from 100 to 1000 kilometers throughout Palearctic, Oriental, and Ethiopian regions. (Meine and Archibald, 1996)

Communication and Perception

Anthropoides virgo has elaborate methods of communication vocally, and visually. The voice of demoiselles is low and raspy, and has an extensive repertoire for communication that develops at an early age. There are several vocalizations that these cranes will make, including: contact calls, stress calls, food begging calls, guard calls, location calls, precopulatory calls, flight-intention calls, alarm calls, and the well known duet of the unison call. All of these vocalizations are crucial for the initiation, development and maintenance of a pair and for the social interaction and survival of the individual bird.

Visual communication is equally important. As mentioned earlier, the spectacular dancing of demoiselle cranes, is very contagious among flocks, and can be a displacement activity when nervous, or the performance of a courtship dance (See "Reproduction"). Other forms of expression include: threat postures, hissing, tail fluttering, feather ruffling, crouching, rigid strutting, ritualized preening of the back of the thigh, flapping, stamping, and growling. Appearing genetically determined, these displays are not learned socially from the instruction of the parents or other cranes. However, the object at which the display is oriented around is learned, and if a young demoiselle is more habituated to humans or other species, these displays will be directed more towards them. ("Demoiselle Crane", 2000; Ellis, et al., 1996; Johnsgard, 1983; Meine and Archibald, 1996)

  • Other Communication Modes
  • duets

Food Habits

Foraging during the morning and the early afternoon, A. virgo are generalists and opportunists with respect to their diet and foraging behavior. With more efficient shorter bills and toes for feeding in dry uplands, croplands, and pastures, these birds hunt with their heads lowered to peck at the ground. Furthermore, demoiselle cranes are omnivores, consuming a wide variety of plant materials year round, and supplementing their diet with other animals. More specifically, demoiselles can be considered: carnivores, insectivores, molluscivores, folivores, frugivores, granivores. Precisely, their diet includes: seeds, leaves, acorns, nuts, berries, fruits, waste grains, small mammals, birds, insects, worms, snails, grasshoppers, beetles, snakes, lizards, and rodents. ("Demoiselle Crane", 2000; Ellis, et al., 1996)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • reptiles
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit


Little is known about the predators of this species. Little information is available regarding the predators of demoiselles other than those species that threaten the breeding territory of these cranes. Anthropoides virgo are fierce protectors of their nests, and will attack eagles (Aquila), and bustards (Otis tarda), and will give chase to foxes and dogs. Man can also be considered a predator, for even though hunting of this species is illegal, in areas with lacking resources, exceptions are made. Information on anti-predator adaptation, behavior, and structure, is sparse also. As mentioned previously, demoiselle cranes have numerous communication behaviors that assist in protecting them from predators, such as various threat postures, vocalizations, visualizations, the modification of the bill and toes for more efficient feeding and running, and the silver-gray coloration of the juvenile crane for camouflage, as well as their eggs that are yellow-green with lavender spots. ("Demoiselle Crane", 2000; Ellis, et al., 1996; Johnsgard, 1983; Meine and Archibald, 1996)

Ecosystem Roles

As generalist omnivores and potential prey items, A. virgo interacts with many other species. Additionally, demoiselle cranes are hosts to parasites of various nematodes such as the Gapeworm, Capillarids, and Ascarids, which are all intestinal parasites. Coccidiosis is another parasite in chicks that infests the gut and visceral parts of the bird such as the heart, liver, kidneys, and lungs. (Ellis, et al., 1996)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The human relationship with A. virgo varies. Africans will raise demoiselle chicks as pets, these cranes are popular in the zoos of Europe and the Orient, and they are also hunted or trapped during migration for food, or for pets. The economic importance of demoiselle cranes is limited mostly to the food and pet trade. (Ellis, et al., 1996; Johnsgard, 1983; Meine and Archibald, 1996)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The only known adverse affect of A. virgo is that they will use cultivated lands because of the growing pressures on their natural habitat. Sometimes these cranes will cause conflict with farmers. Since the breeding grounds in the Eurasian Steppes are extremely appealing for agricultural development, demoiselle cranes have learned to successfully reproduce in agricultural fields. However, these birds can cause significant crop damage, inflicting serious damage to ripened millet and other crops in result of having to live in these fields. Two of the leading controversies that affect the population of this species are the poisoning and shooting of these birds, mainly by the adversely affected farmers. (Ellis, et al., 1996; Meine and Archibald, 1996)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

There are a variety of threats that affect the population of A. virgo, including:

Habitat Loss and Degradation:
  • Conversion of grasslands
  • Changes in agricultural land use
  • Dams and water diversion
  • Urban expansion and land development
  • Afforestation
  • Changes in vegetation
  • Pollution and Environmental contamination
  • Oil development
  • Collision with utility lines
Direct Exploitation:
  • Overhunting
  • Poaching
  • Live trapping for domestication and commercial trade
  • Poisoning

The future of demoiselle cranes is more stable and secure than other cranes species. Measures are being taken however to diminish the threats listed above. Conservation measures that have been successful thus far in benefiting A. virgo include increased:

  • Protection
  • Establishment of protected areas
  • Local surveys and studies of migration routes
  • Development of monitoring programs
  • Availability of Information exchange

The development of a public education programs in the breeding and migration ranges of demoiselle cranes, and the development of more specialized education programs involving hunters in Afghanistan and Pakistan are currently underway. These programs will assure more public awareness of this species, and will hopefully and eventually derive more support in the conservation of A. virgo.

The Cranes: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan has looked at the conservation status of individuals in the six regional populations where demoiselle cranes are located. Their estimate is as follows:

Other Comments

Cranes in general have always inspired expression through art, mythology, legend, and artifacts - continually evoking strong emotional responses. They have also had a predominant place in religion, and have appeared in pictographs, petroglyphs, and ceramics. In ancient Egyption tombs, demoiselle cranes have a strong appearance in the ancient art.

Cranes as a whole have various significance in various cultures, including: watchfulness, steadiness, mutual aid, longevity, happiness, maternal bliss, and good luck. (Meine and Archibald, 1996)


Matthew Wund (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Megan Mertaugh (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


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

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


having coloration that serves a protective function for the animal, usually used to refer to animals with colors that warn predators of their toxicity. For example: animals with bright red or yellow coloration are often toxic or distasteful.

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.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cooperative breeder

helpers provide assistance in raising young that are not their own


having a worldwide distribution. Found on all continents (except maybe Antarctica) and in all biogeographic provinces; or in all the major oceans (Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific.


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

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

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


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.


union of egg and spermatozoan


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


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).


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


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

World Map


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.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


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

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


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


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.


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.


uses sight to communicate


2000. "Demoiselle Crane" (On-line ). Animal Fact Sheets. Accessed 03/19/03 at

International Crane Foundation. 1999. "The Demoiselle" (On-line ). Crane Species. Accessed 03/19/03 at

Ellis, D., G. Gee, C. Mirande. 1996. Cranes: Their Biology, Husbandry, and Conservation. Washington, DC: Department of the Interior, National Biological Service.

Johnsgard, P. 1983. Cranes of the World. Bloominton, IN: Indiana University Press.

Ly, L. "The Demoiselle Crane" (On-line ). WhoZoo. Accessed 03/19/03 at

Meine, C., G. Archibald. 1996. The Cranes. Gland, Switzerland: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.