International Crane Foundation


Blue Crane

Anthropoides paradiseus

HEIGHT: 117 cm, 4 ft
WEIGHT: 5.1 kg, 11 lbs
POPULATION: 20,000 – 21,000 in South Africa and 60 in Namibia
TREND: Stable
STATUS: IUCN: VU; Cites Appendix II; CMS II


Both the Xhosa and Zulu tribes in Africa revere the Blue Crane. Zulu royalty were the only ones allowed to wear Blue Crane feathers, and Xhosa warriors were only allowed to wear Blue Crane feathers into battle.


One of the smaller crane species, Blue Cranes are four feet tall and weigh about eleven pounds. Body plumage is silvery bluish gray becoming darker on the upper neck and the lower half of the head and nape. Blue Cranes are one of two species of cranes that do not have bare, red skin on their heads. The feathers of the crown and forehead are light grayish white, while the cheeks, ear coverts and nape are dark ashy gray, which they raise (or fluff) during threat displays, producing a distinctive cobra-like look. Blue Cranes have short bills and black legs. The primary feathers are black or slate gray. The tertial feathers of the wing are long, dark and dangle nearly to the ground, giving this crane an elegant appearance. Males and females are virtually indistinguishable. Juveniles are slightly lighter blue gray than adults, and lack the long wing tertials. >Download FREE Blue Crane images.


Blue Cranes, the national bird of South Africa, are endemic (only found in a certain region) to southern Africa, with more than 99% of the population occurring within South Africa. The Blue Crane is the national bird of South Africa. A small disjunct breeding population of approximately 60 individuals exists in northern Namibia, in and around Etosha Pan.


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The Blue Crane is a bird of dry grasslands and other upland habitats. Where shallow wetlands are available, Blue Cranes will roost and feed in them. Mated pairs of cranes, including Blue 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. In Blue Cranes the male initiates the display and utters one call for each female call. 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 crane s and can serve to thwart aggression, relieve tension, and strengthen the pair bond.

Preferred nesting sites of Blue Cranes include secluded grasslands in higher elevations where eggs are laid amid the grass or on the bare ground. In agricultural areas, they nest in pastures, in fallow fields, and in crop fields when stubble becomes available after harvest. Females usually lay two eggs and incubation (by both sexes) lasts 30-33 days. The male takes the primary role in defending the nest against possible danger. Chicks fledge (first flight) between 3-5 months of age.


All cranes are omnivorous. Principal foods of the Blue Crane include the seeds of sedges and grasses, waste grains, insects, and small vertebrates.


Poisoning, habitat alteration, and power line collisions are all significant threats to Blue Cranes. Poisoning occurs both intentionally and inadvertently. Loss of grasslands to agriculture, urbanization/ecotourism developments, and commercial afforestation of South Africa’s natural grasslands are major threats to Blue Crane habitat. Grasslands are being converted to pine and eucalyptus plantations for pulp and timber production. Such plantings drastically alter the entire ecosystem; grassland vegetation is removed and water runoff and groundwater flow is greatly altered, leading to the desiccation of wetlands. Blue Cranes are especially vulnerable to collision with powerlines near roosting and breeding sites.

ICF in Action

ICF assisted the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s South African Crane Working Group (SACWG) in obtaining funding to further study the Blue Crane in the Cape Province, and explore eco-tourism opportunities. ICF provides training and networking at our Baraboo headquarters for South African biologists and educators working in areas where Blue Cranes occur.

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.