International Crane Foundation


White-naped Crane

Grus vipio

HEIGHT: ~130 cm, 4 ft
WEIGHT: ~5.6 kg, 12 lbs
POPULATION: ~4,900 – 5,300
TREND: Declining
STATUS:IUCN: VU; ESA: E; Cites Appendix I; CMS I, II


Nape refers to the back of the neck, and is the origin for this species’ common name.


White-naped Cranes are the only crane species with pinkish legs and a dark gray and white striped neck. The white hind neck and nape, surrounded by an extensively reddish face patch, also serve to identify this species Adult plumage is dark gray and wings and wing coverts are silvery gray. Males and females are virtually indistinguishable, although in breeding pairs males tend to be slightly larger in size than females.


White-naped Cranes breed in northeastern Mongolia, northeastern China, and adjacent areas of southeastern Russia. Birds in the western portion of the breeding range migrate south through China, resting at areas on the Yellow River delta, and wintering at wetlands in the middle Yangtze River valley. Approximately 2,000 birds in the eastern portion of the breeding range migrate south through the Korean peninsula. Several hundred remain on wintering grounds in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. The remainder continues on to the Japanese island of Kyushu where they rely heavily upon an artificial feeding station located outside the city of Izumi.


Click to view range map.


Breeding habitat includes shallow wetlands and wet meadows in broad river valleys, along lake edges, and in lowland steppes or mixed forest-steppe areas. White-naped Cranes nest, roost, and feed in shallow wetlands and along wetland edges, foraging in adjacent grasslands or farmlands. During migration and on their wintering grounds, they use rice paddies, mudflats, other wetlands and agricultural fields. White-naped Cranes are excellent diggers. The White-naped Crane is often found in the company of other crane species that also occur within their range, including Red-crowned, Hooded, Demoiselle, and Eurasian Cranes.

Mated pairs of cranes, including White-naped 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 White-naped 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 are mounds of dried sedges and grasses in open wetlands. Females usually lay two eggs and incubation (by both sexes) lasts 28-32 days. The male takes the primary role in defending the nest against possible danger. Chicks fledge (first flight) at 70-75 days.


All cranes are omnivorous. White-naped Cranes feed on insects, small vertebrates, seeds, roots and tubers, wetland plants, and waste grains. At the artificial feeding station at Izumi in Japan, White-naped cranes thrive upon rice and other cereal grains. In the Han River estuary (Korea) and at Poyang Lake (China) they excavate the tubers of several species of sedges.


Habitat loss and degradation are critical problems throughout the range of the White-naped Crane. Destruction of wetlands due to agricultural expansion in the breeding range poses the most significant threat. Critical habitat is also threatened by a proposed series of dams in the Amur River basin and the Three Gorges Dam in China. The possibility of a military conflict in the Korean DMZ poses an additional threat, while the high concentration of cranes at the Izumi Feeding Station in Japan increases the risk of a serious disease outbreak.

ICF in Action

ICF is involved in the conservation of White-naped Cranes throughout their range in eastern Asia.

One of ICF’s earliest victories in conservation concerned the White-naped Crane on its wintering grounds and migration staging areas in and near the Korean DMZ. In 1973 – 1975, Dr. George Archibald and Dr. Kim Hon Kyu from Ewha Women’s University, determined that wetlands of the Han River Estuary stretching between Seoul and the western portion of the DMZ were important to more than 1000 White-naped Cranes. After a conservation proposal was advanced to the Ministry of Cultural Properties, the wetlands of the east side of the estuary were proclaimed protected areas as Natural Monuments. A year later through suggestions of the ICF-inspired Korean Council for Crane Preservation, wetlands on the west side of the estuary were also protected.

The major breeding area for this species is wetlands associated with lakes and river valleys in eastern Mongolia. In 1993, together with Russian colleagues, ICF co-hosted an historic meeting of Russian, Chinese and Mongolian specialists to develop an international agreement for the conservation of the wetland and grassland regions shared by the three nations on what are known as the Daurian Steppes (another vernacular name of the White-naped Crane is the Daurian crane). This meeting was held in Daruski Nature Reserve on the Russia-Mongolia border. In subsequent years, this Agreement has been an “engine” for collaboration among the three nations.

East of the Daurian Steppes, the lowlands of the Amur River also provide excellent nesting habitat for these cranes in both Russia and China. In 1994, through the work of Dr. Sergei Smirenski with assistance from ICF and colleagues in Japan, Muraviovka Park was created on the Amur lowlands to include 12,000 acres of prime nesting habitat for 10-12 White-naped Crane pairs. Muraviovka Park is Russia’s first private nature reserve since the Russian Revolution of 1917, and may pave the way for similar reserves in other regions of this vast nation. Muraviovka Park is not exclusively for wildlife but also for people. About 1000 acres of upland are dedicated to a demonstration organic farm.

ICF staff are members of the Northeast Asian Crane Site Network. Through the administration of the Wild Bird Society of Japan with support from the government of Japan, members of the network gather annually to discuss the welfare of critical wetlands used by White-naped Cranes and other endangered cranes in the region. Cooperative plans are made for conservation action.

Through funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) of the United Nations Environment Program, ICF secured support to address the conservation of wetlands vital to Siberian Cranes in China. The major wetlands of northeast China provide a place for Siberian cranes to rest during migration and for White-naped Cranes to breed. The basin of Poyang Lake on the Yangtze River lowlands provides winter habitat for the majority of the world’s Siberian Cranes and perhaps 3000 White-naped Cranes – half of the world population. The GEF project will help assure the welfare of wetlands in China for both species.

Recently, with support from the Henry Luce Foundation, ICF is partnering with educators and nature reserve staff at the Zhalong Nature Reserve and Changlindao Nature Reserve in northeastern China to foster increased cooperation and understanding of the environmental issues affecting important breeding and migration corridors for Hooded, Red-crowned and White-naped Cranes.

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.