email a friend
printable version
Red-crowned Crane Grus japonensis
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information
BirdLife Species Champion Become a BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme Supporter
For information about BirdLife Species Champions and Species Guardians visit the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme.

This species is classified as Endangered because it has a very small population, and although the population in Japan is stable, the mainland Asian population continues to decline owing to loss and degradation of wetlands through conversion to agriculture and industrial development.

Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

150 cm. Very large, predominantly white crane. Black face and neck, but with white patch extending from behind eye to nape. Red crown. White primaries and black secondaries and tertials. Similar spp. Siberian Crane G. leucogeranus and Whooping Crane G. americana have black primaries and white necks. Black-necked Crane G. nigricollis has grey body. Voice High-pitched, penetrating calls.

Distribution and population
Grus japonensis breeds in south-eastern Russia, north-east China, Mongolia (where it was first recorded in 2003 [O. Goroshko in litt. 2003]), and eastern Hokkaido, Japan (BirdLife International 2001). The Russian and Chinese populations mainly winter in the Yellow river delta and the coast of Jiangsu province, China, and the Demilitarised Zone, North Korea/South Korea. Staging areas exist along the Yellow river between the provinces of Shanxi and Shaanxi. The Japanese population is non-migratory. The population is estimated at c.2,750 birds; however, this species has a long generation length (12 years), so the population is likely to include only c.1,650 mature individuals (J. Harris in litt. 2007, 2009). Trends are difficult to infer from population estimates, because due to habitat degradation wintering sites are becoming more concentrated and counts are therefore likely to be becoming more accurate, but it is probably declining on mainland Asia (J. Harris in litt. 2007, 2009). The wintering population in China totals c.400-500 birds (Su and Wang 2010). There are another 1,000-1,050 at four locations in North/South Korea (Lee and Yoo 2010). The resident population in Japan has increased to c.1,200 birds (Wang Qi-shan 2008).

Population justification
The global population is estimated to number c.2,750 individuals, which roughly equates to 1,650 mature individuals (J. Harris in litt. 2007, in litt. 2009).

Trend justification
The population in Japan is stable but that on the continent is declining due to a number of factors, most importantly the degradation of breeding and wintering sites. Apparent recent increases are likely to reflect increased concentrations at fewer sites, and the global population is thought to have declined by at least 20% over the past 37 years or three generations (J. Harris in litt. 2009).

In Russia and China, it breeds in grass, reed, and sedge marshes. In winter and on passage, it occurs in wetlands, including tidal flats, saltmarshes, rivers, wet grassland, saltpans and aquaculture ponds.

The key threat is the loss and degradation of wetlands in its breeding and wintering grounds, principally for conversion to agriculture, but also industrial and economic development (J. Harris in litt. 2007, 2009). This loss of habitat is leading to the over-concentration of cranes at a few sites (Wang Qi-shan 2008). In China, wetlands are becoming drier as a result of surrounding development (J. Harris in litt. 2007, 2009). In Russia and China, spring fires destroy suitable nesting grounds, and the proliferation of dams lowers water levels, allowing predators access to nests and destroying suitable breeding sites (J. Harris in litt. 2007, 2009). Human disturbance has been so high as to prevent individuals from nesting in some areas (J. Harris in litt. 2009). Rainfall patterns in the breeding grounds appear to follow a 30-year cycle, and the current dry period has meant birds, people and livestock have had to depend on ever smaller areas of wetland, also resulting in increased pressure to divert water from rivers and lakes (Harris 2008). Wetland restoration at Zhalong Nature Reserve (China) was recorded as causing inappropriately-timed floods leading to nest failure (Qiang Wang and Feng Li 2008). Important sites on the Song-nen plain, Shuangtai Hekou and Yellow River delta are on or near major oilfields and pollution is a potential threat (J. Harris in litt. 2007, 2009). There is high adult mortality in some mainland wintering areas which is apparently due to poisoning; the species has been found to carry high levels of heavy metal contamination, and the incidence of poisoning has been increasing in recent years (Harris 2008, Su Liying et al. 2008, Su et al. 2011). Poaching has also been suggested as a threat (Su Liying et al. 2008). In the demilitarised zone of North/South Korea, the shift to autumn ploughing is reducing access to waste grain (Lee et al. 2007), and there is uncertainty regarding the long-term fate of the crane habitat, whatever the political future delivers. In Japan, the concentration of birds at feeding stations means there is a risk of disease, especially given the low genetic diversity of the population, which passed through a bottleneck in the 1950s (J. Harris in litt. 2007, 2009; Wang Qi-shan 2008). Also the DMZ in Korea is under pressure for development due to the recent relaxation of tensions between South and North Korea (Lee et al. 2007b).

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I and II.  CMS Appendix I and II.  Part of the European Endangered [Species] Programme of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria.  It is legally protected in all range states. Key protected areas include Khingansky, Muraviovka and Lake Khanka (Russia), Zhalong, Xianghai, Hui River, Shuangtai Hekou, Yellow River delta and Yancheng (China), Kumya and Mundok (North Korea), Kushiro, Akkeshi-Bekanbeushi and Kiritappu (Japan). Surveys of the wintering population in China have been carried out since 2006 (Su Liying et al. 2008). The International Red-crowned Crane Workshop was held in Japan in November 2008, where it was concluded that international cooperation was necessary to stop development from threatening crane habitat across the species's range (Wang Hui 2008). Artificial feeding has been set up at some sites (Wang Qi-shan 2008).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Identify breeding times during which particularly stringent protection rules should be implemented, as has been done at Liaoning Shuangtai Estuary (Zou Hong-fei et al. 2008). Improve general monitoring procedure, with complete censuses, satellite tracking and aerial counts. Determine Area of Occupancy to a more accurate level. Initiate a study of heavy metal contamination on the mainland (J. Harris in litt. 2009). Expand the area/number of wintering sites in Japan. Establish a transboundary protected area at Tumen estuary, between Russia/China/North Korea. Secure the conservation status of the Cholwon and Han estuary in the Demilitarised Zone. Strengthen management of protected areas on the Sanjiang plain (China), reducing human disturbance. Halt tidal-flat reclamation along the Yancheng coast (China), and control the highly invasive cordgrass Spartina alterniflora. Improve management of wetland restoration at Zhalong, to prevent floods from causing breeding failure (Qiang Wang and Feng Li 2008). Prevent poisoning from pesticides and poaching. Control fires in the breeding grounds. Establish interest groups and a communications organisation for crane conservation in China (Wang Qi-shan 2008) and extend captive breeding programmes for future reintroduction and population supplementation.

BirdLife International. 2001. Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Brazil, M. 2009. Birds of East Asia: eastern China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, eastern Russia. Christopher Helm, London.

Collar, N. J.; Butchart, S. H. M. 2013. Conservation breeding and avian diversity: chances and challenges. International Zoo Yearbook.

European Association of Zoos and Aquaria. EEPs and ESBs. Available at:

Harris, J. 2008. Cranes respond to climate change. ICF Bugle 34(3): 1-3, 14-15.

Klenova, A. V.; Volodin, I. A.; Volodina, E. V. 2007. The vocal development of the Red-crowned Crane Grus japonensis. Ornithological Science 6(2): 107-119.

Lee Kisup and Yoo Seunghwa. 2010. The red-crowned crane wintering population increase and conservation in Korea. China Crane News 14(1): 20-25.

Lee, S.D., Jablonski, P.D. and Higuchi, H. 2007. Effect of heterospecifics on foraging of endangered red-crowned and white-naped cranes in the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Ecological Research 22(4): 635-640.

Lee, S.D., Jablonski, P.D. and Higuchi, H. 2007. Winter foraging of threatened cranes in the Demilitarized Zone of Korea: behavioral evidence for the conservation importance of unplowed rice fields. Biological Conservation 139(1-2): 286-289.

Qiang Wang; Feng Li. 2008. Nest raising by Red-crowned Cranes in response to human-mediated flooding at Zhalong Nature Reserve, China. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 120(3): 610-613.

Su Liying and Wang Qishan. 2010. The mainland population of the red-crowned crane faces growing threat. China Crane News 14(1): 3-8.

Su-Liying; Jiang Hongxing; Qian Fawen; Wang Hui; Shan Kai. 2008. The Red-crowned Crane wintering population declines during the last three winters in China. China Crane News 12(2): 12-18.

Wang Hui. 2008. Red-crowned Crane protection needs international cooperation. China Crane News 12(2): 18-20.

Wang Qi-Shan. 2008. Threats for Red-crowned Crane. China Crane News 12(2): 7-12.

Zou Hong-Fei; Jin Hong-Yang; Wu Qing-Ming. 2008. Counting of Red-crowned Cranes in Liaoning Shuangtai Estuary, 2008. China Crane News 12(2): 6-7.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001).

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

International Crane Foundation Species Field Guide

Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan

Status, Survey and Conservation Action Plan

View photos and videos and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Chan, S., Khwaja, N., Mahood, S., Peet, N., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Allinson, T

Chan, S., Goroshko, O., Harris, J., Li, Z., Parilov, M., Smirenski, S., Lee, S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Grus japonensis. Downloaded from on 24/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 24/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Japanese crane (Grus japonensis)

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Endangered
Family Gruidae (Cranes)
Species name author (M?ller, 1776)
Population size 1650 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 551,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species