Siberian Crane

Grus leucogeranus
Height: 140 cm, 5 ft.
Weight: 6 kg, 13 lbs.
Population: ~2,900-3,000
Trend: Rapid decline
Status:IUCN: CR A3cde, Cites Appendix I, ESA: E; CMS I, II
Identification:

Adult forecrown, forehead, face, and sides of the head are bare of feathers and brick-red in color. The plumage is pure white except for the primaries, which are black. Eye color is reddish or pale yellow and legs and toes are reddish pink. Males and females are virtually indistinguishable, although males tend to be slightly larger in size and females tend to have shorter beaks than males.

Juvenile heads and necks are rusty buff in color. The rest of the plumage is buffy brown, with paler plumage occurring on the throat and chin. Siberian Crane chicks have blue eyes at hatching, but eye color changes at about six months of age to yellow. Download FREE Siberian Crane images.
Range:

This critically endangered species is now only found in two populations, the eastern and western. A central population of Siberian Cranes once nested in western Siberia and wintered in India. The last documented sighting of Siberian Cranes in India during the winter months was in 2002. There is a high probability this population has been recently extirpated. All but a few existing birds belong to the eastern population, which breed in northeastern Siberia and winter along the middle Yangtze River in China. The western population winters at a single site along the south coast of the Caspian Sea in Iran and breeds just south of the Ob River east of the Ural Mountains in Russia.

Map Range, Migration and Nesting Map 1

Range, Migration and Nesting Map 2
Habitat & Ecology:

Siberian Cranes are the most highly specialized member of the crane family in terms of habitat requirements, morphology, vocalizations, and behavior. It is the most aquatic of the cranes, exclusively using wetlands for nesting, feeding, and roosting, and has behavioral displays that are quite distinct from other crane species.

Mated pairs of cranes, including Siberian Cranes, engage in unison calling, which is a complex and extended series of coordinated calls. The birds stand in a specific posture, usually with their heads thrown back and beaks skyward during the display. The male always lifts up his wings over his back during the unison call while the female keeps her wings folded at her sides. Siberian Crane males usually initiate the display and utter one call for each female call. All cranes also 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 crane s and can serve to thwart aggression, relieve tension, and strengthen the pair bond.

The Siberian Crane nests in bogs, marshes, and other wetland types of the lowland tundra, taiga/tundra transition zone, and taiga, preferring wide expanses of shallow fresh water with good visibility. Females usually lay two eggs and incubation (by both sexes) lasts ~29 days. The male takes the primary role in defending the nest against possible danger. Chicks fledge (first flight) at approximately 70-75 days.
Vocalizations:

Loud, rattling kar-r-r-o-o-o. With multiple variations.

Diet:

All cranes are omnivorous. Siberian Cranes eat a wide variety of food items. On the breeding grounds in spring, they eat cranberries, rodents, fish and insects. They have a propensity for digging in wet soils. On migration and on the wintering grounds, they excavate nutrient rich roots and tubers from wetlands. They are predominantly vegetarian outside their breeding season.
Threats:

The traditional migratory and wintering habitats of this species are under constant pressure from the demands of the growing human population. These include: agricultural development, wetland drainage, oil exploration, hunting, and water development projects. The western population is primarily threatened by hunting whereas the eastern population is at risk from loss of wetland habitat.

ICF in Action:

Throughout the three decades of ICF history, next to Whooping Cranes, the Siberian Crane has received considerable conservation effort. In the 1970s, ICF co-founder, Ron Sauey, conducted his doctoral research on the ecology and behavior of the tiny flock of Siberian Cranes that wintered at India's famed, Keoladeo National Park, about 100 miles south of New Delhi. He confirmed their migration resting area at Lake Ab-i-Estada in Afghanistan and he wrote an excellent and comprehensive dissertation on the species, a document that stands as a milestone in our understanding of this formerly little-known and critically endangered species.

Realizing the threats to Siberian Cranes in the wild, a top priority for ICF was to establish the species in captivity. In 1977 and 1978, under the auspices of the US-USSR Environment Agreement, ICF, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Russian counterparts orchestrated the export of hatching eggs from Russia. Seven viable eggs were transported 10,000 miles from the nests of wild cranes to incubators in Wisconsin, USA. All hatched and three pairs were reared. Concurrently, ICF helped Russian colleagues establish a captive breeding center for Siberian Cranes at the Oka Nature Reserve near Moscow. Today there are several hundred Siberian Cranes in captivity at special facilities in Belgium, China, Russia and the USA.

Since the early 1990s, ICF has worked with researchers from Iran, Russia, India and Japan to discover the precise migration routes of Siberian Cranes. Satellite transmitters attached to birds allowed scientists to pinpoint some key staging areas. In 1997, ICF made a video called Save the Siberian Crane, which was translated into the many languages of the flyway and sent to local people along the migratory path. The video educated people about the birds and the importance of protecting them. Also during the 1990's, ICF sent Siberian Crane eggs and chicks to Russia and India for release into the wild, in an attempt to bolster the sagging western and now extirpated central population.

In the early 1990s, ICF joined forces with an UN-supported organization in Germany, the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) to develop a Memorandum of Understanding concerning Conservation Measures for the Siberian Cranes. It has subsequently been signed by all 11 nations within the former range of the species. Every second year government officials and crane specialists from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Russia and Uzbekistan meet with ICF and CMS to discuss work directed towards the conservation of Siberian Cranes.

A $10 million Global Environment Facility (GEF) grant, being implemented through the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), supports efforts to address threats to key wetlands used by Siberian Cranes. The Siberian Crane Wetland Project (SCWP) is a six-year effort to sustain the ecological integrity of a network of globally important wetlands in Asia that are of critical importance for migratory waterbirds and other wetland biodiversity, using the globally threatened Siberian Crane as a flagship species. The project addresses the threats to key wetlands used by Siberian Cranes during breeding, wintering and migration along two flyways in four key countries - China, Iran, Kazakhstan and Russia. To learn more, click here to go to the SCWP website: www.scwp.info.

ICF implemented the Three White Cranes, Two Flyways, One World education project in 2006 to link our conservation and education programs focusing on Siberian and Red-crowned Cranes in East Asia with our education programs centering on the Whooping Crane in the eastern United States. Through annual field trips to ICF, classroom visits by ICF educators, and educator exchanges in the United States, China and Russia, students along both flyways are learning about cranes and their shared responsibility in protecting our global environment.

The Siberian Crane Flyway Coordination (SCFC) enhances communication among the large network of scientists, governmental agencies, biologists, private organizations, and citizens involved with Siberian Crane conservation. The SCFC website includes detailed migratory maps, flyway information, captive breeding and reintroduction updates, educational programming, and a bibliography on the species. To learn more, click here to go to the Siberian Crane Flyway Coordination website: www.sibeflyway.org.

The last recorded observation of Siberian Cranes from the central Asian flock was in 2002. Apparently they were victims of hunting along the 4,000 mile migration route between the Russian arctic and India. The loss of the central population and the decline of the western population to single digits is also undoubtedly a consequence of hunting, especially during migration. Techniques have been developed in the USA for re-establishing migratory Whooping Cranes by training captive-reared birds to follow ultra-light aircraft along a traditional migration route. These techniques can be adapted to re-establish migratory flocks that migrate from Russia to India and to bolster the numbers of the remnant flock that winters in Iran. The concept of humans leading cranes through the skies has widespread public appeal and can be used to promote public education and in particular, hunter education. ICF is taking steps in the range states of the Siberian Crane in west Asia to prepare for the return of the species.

It is pointless to restore the populations of Siberian Cranes unless their security can be provided along the migration route. Consequently, since 2002, Dr. George Archibald has traveled each winter to Afghanistan and Pakistan to work with colleagues on awareness programs that they hope will eventually lead to safer conditions for Siberian Cranes. Dr. Archibald is also cultivating relationships with colleagues in the United Arab Emirates with the hope of joining forces to support the conservation of cranes and bustards along migration corridors these large birds share in west Asia.

Species accounts derived from:

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 oldest documented crane that ever lived was a Siberian Crane named Wolf, who died at the age of 83. Wolf is in the Guinness Book of World Records