Sarus Crane

Grus antigone
Height: ~176 cm, 5.8 - 6 ft.
Weight: ~6.35 kg, 14 lbs.
Wingspan: ~240 cm, 8 ft.
Population: ~15,500-20,000
Trend: Declining
Subspecies:Grus antigone antigone (Indian sarus)
Grus antigone sharpii (Eastern sarus)
Grus antigone gilli (Australian sarus)
Status:IUCN: VU A2cde + 3cde Cites Appendix II; CMS II
Identification:

This is the tallest crane species standing at six feet tall, with a wingspan of eight feet. Body plumage is light gray. The crown is covered with smooth greenish skin. The rest of the head, throat, and the upper neck are covered with rough orange/red skin. The ear is marked by a small area of grayish white feathers on each side of the face. Long, black hair-like bristles cover parts of the upper throat and neck. In the Indian Sarus Crane G. a. antigone, white feathers form a collar in between the bare reddish skin of the upper neck and the gray feathers of the lower neck. Legs and toes are a shade of red. Males and females are virtually indistinguishable but within pairs, females are usually smaller than males.

The heads of juveniles are covered with cinnamon brown feathers, and the grayish ear patch is not yet obvious. Body plumage changes from cinnamon brown to gray as the bird matures. Download FREE Sarus Crane images.
Range:

The current range of the Indian Sarus Crane G. a. antigone includes the plains of northern, northwestern, and western India and the western half of Nepal’s Terai Lowlands. Small numbers are also observed in Pakistan. The Eastern Sarus Crane G. a. sharpii formally occurred throughout Indochina. Over the last fifty years it has been decimated throughout this range, but still occurs in smaller numbers in Myanmar, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Eastern Sarus Cranes in Yunnan Province (China) and Lao People’s Democratic Republic are either rare or recently extirpated. The Eastern Sarus in Thailand was thought extirpated in the mid-20th Century. The Australian Sarus Crane G. a. gilli, occurs in northeastern Australia.

Map Range, Migration and Nesting Map

Habitat & Ecology:

Sarus cranes are mostly non-migratory in India, but often make short seasonal movements between dry and wet season habitats in Southeast Asia and Australia. The Indian Sarus Cranes G. a. antigone have adapted to the dense human population in India, and interact closely with people in areas where traditions of tolerance prevail. Similar adaptations occur with the Eastern Sarus G. a. sharpii in some regions of Myanmar. Throughout their range Sarus Cranes utilize a wide variety of landscapes, depending on food availability, cropping patterns, and other seasonal factors. Their optimal habitat includes a combination of small seasonal marshes, floodplains, high altitude wetlands, human-altered ponds, fallow and cultivated lands, and rice paddies. Often they focus their foraging on underground tubers of native wetland vegetation such as Eleocharis spp. Breeding pairs place their nests in a wide variety of natural wetlands, along canals and irrigation ditches, beside village ponds, and in rice paddies. Compared to other crane species, Sarus Cranes will utilize open forests where wetlands occur as well as in open grasslands more so than other crane species. Where possible, the nests are located in shallow water where short emergent vegetation is dominant. For nesting, use of human-dominated wetlands is most common in India, less common in Myanmar and Australia, and is rare in Southeast Asia.

Mated pairs of cranes, including Sarus Cranes, engage in unison calling, which is a complex and extended series of calls where male and female vocalizations differ but are coordinated. The birds stand in a specific posture, usually with their heads thrown back and beaks skyward during the display. In Sarus Cranes the female initiates the display and utters two calls for each male call. The male always lifts up his wings over his back during the unison call while the female keeps her wings folded at her sides. All cranes engage in dancing, which includes various behaviors such as bowing, jumping, running, stick or grass tossing, and wing flapping. Dancing can occur at any age and is commonly associated with courtship, however, it is generally believed to be a normal part of motor development for cranes and can serve to thwart aggression, relieve tension, and strengthen the pair bond.

Nests of all Sarus Cranes consist of wetland vegetation. In India, nests located in flooded rice paddies are constructed entirely of rice stalks. Indian Sarus Cranes breed primarily during the rains, with few pairs breeding outside this season in response to chick loss and creation of nesting habitat due to flooding caused by irrigation canals. Eastern and Australian Sarus Cranes now breed primarily in the rainy season though Eastern Sarus were reported to breed in floodplain wetlands during the dry season before their range dramatically receded. Females usually lay two eggs and incubation (by both sexes) lasts 31-34 days. The male takes the primary role in defending the nest against possible danger. Chicks fledge (first flight) at 50-65 days.
Diet:

All cranes are omnivorous. Sarus Cranes feed on aquatic plants such as tubers of sedges (such as Eleocharis spp.), invertebrates, grains, small vertebrates, and insects
Threats:

Wetland loss and degradation are critical problems throughout the range of Sarus Cranes. Heavy chick loss because of the wildlife trade is currently limiting population numbers of the Eastern Sarus Crane. Destruction of wetlands due to agricultural expansion, however, is increasing dramatically and poses a significant threat as well. These threats reflect increasing human population pressures.

The future of the Indian Sarus Crane is closely tied to the quality of small wetlands in India that experience heavy human use, such as: high rates of sewage inflow, extensive agricultural runoff, high levels of pesticide residues, and intensification of agricultural systems. In India, mortality due to collision with electrical wires is a significant threat and cranes have died due to pesticide poisoning.
ICF in Action:

With support from ICF, Indian colleagues are researching ecology and preparing a conservation action plan for the Indian Sarus Crane in Uttar Pradesh, a state that has the highest concentration of Sarus Cranes in the world. ICF also supports the Indian Cranes and Wetlands Working Group based in Delhi, which will focus on saving Sarus Cranes and wetlands in India.

ICF has program offices in both Vietnam and Cambodia that are responsible for conducting a wide variety of work in this region. Examples of projects in Vietnam include wetland restoration efforts at what is now Tram Chim National Park and in two regions of the Ha Tien Plain, wetland surveys in Yok Don National Park, and assistance with the creation of Lo Go Sa Mat conservation area. In Cambodia, our work has focused on Ang Trapeang Thmaw Wildlife Protected area, Boeng Prek Lapouv (in cooperation with Birdlife International), and in areas along the Sre Pok River of northeastern Cambodia. Region-wide programs include the establishment of a university network among the four countries of the lower Mekong region to provide wetland ecology training for students and teachers.

In Myanmar, through collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society, ICF continues to document the abundance and distribution of the Sarus Crane in this lesser-known area.
Species accounts derived from:

Archibald GW, Sundar KSG, Barzen J. 2003. A review of three species of Sarus Crane Grus antigone. J. of Ecological Soc. 16:5-15.

Johnsgard PA. 1983. Cranes of the world. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Meine CD, Archibald GW. 1996. The cranes: status survey and conservation action plan. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.
International Crane Foundation
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Fun Fact
The Sarus Crane is the tallest flying bird!