International Crane Foundation


Demoiselle Crane

Anthropoides virgo

HEIGHT: 89 cm, 3 ft
WEIGHT: 2-3 kg, 4-7 lbs
POPULATION: ~200,000 – 240,000
TREND: Increasing
STATUS: IUCN: LC; Cites Appendix II; CMS II


When first brought to France from the steppes of Russia, the Demoiselle Crane was so named by Queen Marie Antoinette, for its delicate and maiden-like appearance.


Demoiselle Cranes are the smallest and second most abundant crane species. They stand approximately three feet tall and weigh about 4-7 pounds. Body plumage is pale bluish gray. A light gray-feathered area extends from the based of the bill to the nape. A long, pure white feather plume stretches from behind the eye to well beyond the head. Demoiselle Cranes are one of two species of cranes that do not have patches of bare, red skin on their heads. The head and neck are black while the feathers of the lower neck are long and pointed and hang below the breast. The inner secondaries are long and ashy gray. Eyes are reddish-orange, bill is short, and legs and toes are black. Males and females are virtually indistinguishable although the males tend to be slightly larger.

Juveniles are pale ashy gray, with nearly white heads. The tufts on the ear coverts are gray and only slightly elongated. Download FREE Demoiselle Crane images.


There are six main populations of Demoiselle Cranes occurring in over 47 countries throughout the world. The three eastern populations occurring in eastern Asia, Kazakhstan/central Asia, and Kalmykia (between the Black and Caspian Seas) are abundant, numbering in the tens of thousands. There are also three remnant populations occurring near the Black Sea, and the Atlas plateau of northern Africa, and Turkey. However, all are in decline and the north Africa and Turkey populations are near extinction.


Click to view range map.


Demoiselle Cranes are primarily birds of dry grasslands (savannas, steppes, and semi-deserts.) They do utilize agricultural fields and wetter steppe areas and are normally found within a few hundred meters of streams and rivers, shallow lakes, depressions, and other natural wetlands. Mated pairs of cranes, including Demoiselle 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. In Demoiselle Cranes, the female initiates the display and utters one call for each male 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.

In nesting areas, Demoiselle Cranes prefer patchy vegetation of sufficient height to conceal them and their nest, but short enough to allow them to look out while incubating. Small pebbles and some thin bedding may be gathered together, but eggs are often laid directly on the ground. Females usually lay two eggs and incubation (by both sexes) lasts 27-29 days. The male takes the primary role in defending the nest against possible danger. Chicks fledge (first flight) at 55-65 days, which is the shortest of any crane species.


All cranes are omnivorous. Principal foods of the Demoiselle Crane include plant materials, insects, peanuts, beans and other cereal grains, and small animals.


Habitat loss and degradation are the main threats to the Demoiselle Crane. Demoiselle Cranes are hunted for sport, food, and pets in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In other areas, Demoiselles are shot or poisoned due to the crop damage they cause.

ICF in Action

ICF worked with the Crane Hunters Association of Pakistan to provide avicultural and resource management training in the U.S. ICF also worked with WWF Pakistan on crane hunting and water issues, and sponsored a graduate student from Pakistan at the University of Wisconsin’s Institute of Environmental Studies.

ICF is working with colleagues in Sudan to assess the status and population of wintering Demoiselle Cranes in the vast Sudd wetlands.

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.