This species has been uplisted to Endangered because threats such as habitat loss and the illegal removal of birds and eggs from the wild have driven very rapid declines during the past three generations (45 years).
Distribution and populationBalearica regulorum
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.
occurs in eastern and southern Africa, with B. r. gibbericeps
occurring from the Democratic Republic of the Congo
, Rwanda, Uganda
south through Tanzania
, and nominate race B. r. regulorum
found from Mozambique south through Zimbabwe
to South Africa
and west in small numbers to Namibia
. Populations in many areas including Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Namibia have experienced very rapid declines (Beilfuss et al.
2007, K. Morrison in litt
. 2011, National Biodiversity Data Bank in prep., A. Scott in litt
. 2012, O. Mabhachi in litt.
2012), although the South African population appears to be stable or increasing (Beilfuss et al.
2007). The largest remaining populations are believed to be in Kenya (17,000-20,000 individuals in 2004), Uganda (13,000-20,000 individuals), the Democratic Republic of Congo (perhaps 5,000 birds), and South Africa (4,000-5,000 birds) (Beilfuss et al.
2007). Population justification
Beilfuss et al.
(2007) estimated the population to number 50,000-64,000 individuals in 2004. Since the population is declining very rapidly, the current population size is likely to be lower than this and so a new population estimate is needed.Trend justification
Overall estimates suggest that the species’s global population has declined from over 100,000 individuals in 1985 to 50,000-64,000 individuals in 2004 (Beilfuss et al
. 2007). This implies that the species may have declined by over 50% in 19 years, and when these data are extrapolated to a period of 45 years in the past (1967-2012) or past and future (1985-2030), assuming an exponential trend, the calculated rate of decline is c.65-79% (Beilfuss et al. 2007, Morrison et al. 2007, K. Morrison in litt. 2011, National Biodiversity Data Bank in prep.).
Declines are attributed primarily to habitat loss and fragmentation and illegal removal of birds and eggs from the wild for food, traditional use, domestication and the international illegal trade market.EcologyBehaviour
This species is not migratory although it may make variable local and seasonal movements depending on the abundance and distribution of food, nest-sites and rainfall (del Hoyo et al.
. The timing of breeding varies in relation to the rains, with the breeding of East African populations peaking during dry periods, but with the breeding of populations in the drier parts of southern Africa peaking during wet periods (del Hoyo et al.
. The species nests in solitary territorial pairs (Urban et al.
1986, Hockey et al.
but often flocks together (del Hoyo et al.
and roosts communally at night (Hockey et al.
in groups of up to 20-200 individuals (Urban et al.
during dry periods in the drier part of its range (e.g. Namibia and South Africa) (del Hoyo et al.
. The abundance and distribution of food and suitable nesting sites are the key ecological factors determining the size of the home range of this species and the extent of local and seasonal population movements (Meine and Archibald 1996)
The species inhabits wetlands such as marshes, pans and dams with tall emergent vegetation (Hockey et al.
, riverbanks (Meine and Archibald 1996)
, open riverine woodland, shallowly flooded plains (Urban et al.
and temporary pools (del Hoyo et al.
with adjacent grasslands, open savannas, croplands (del Hoyo et al.
1996) (del Hoyo et al.
1996, Meine and Archibald 1996)
, pastures, fallow fields and irrigated areas (del Hoyo et al.
. It shows a preference for short to medium height open grasslands adjacent to wetlands for foraging (Meine and Archibald 1996)
, and breeds within or at the edges of wetlands (Meine and Archibald 1996)
especially in marshes with water 1 m deep and with emergent vegetation 1 m above the water (Urban et al.
. It roosts in water along rivers or in marshes, or perches on nearby trees (Urban et al.
1986, Meine and Archibald 1996)
The species is a generalist, its diet consisting of seed heads (e.g. of sedges Cyperus
spp.), new tips of grasses (del Hoyo et al.
, agricultural pulses, nuts and grain (Meine and Archibald 1996)
, insects (Orthoptera, larval Lepidoptera), frogs, lizards and crabs Potamon
spp. (del Hoyo et al.
. Breeding site
The nest is a circular platform of uprooted grasses and sedges (del Hoyo et al.
concealed in tall emergent vegetation (greater than 1 m in height) (Urban et al.
1986, Meine and Archibald 1996) in or along the margins of wetlands such as marshes (del Hoyo et al.
with water c.1 m deep (Urban et al.
. The species may also rarely nest in trees (del Hoyo et al.
The species is threatened by the loss and degradation of wetland breeding areas through drought-related changes in land-use, drainage and overgrazing (del Hoyo et al.
1996) (e.g. uncontrolled cattle grazing) (Kampamba and Pope 1996), as well as through the heavy use of agricultural pesticides (del Hoyo et al.
1996, Meine and Archibald 1996), declines in fallowing practices, high sedimentation rates (del Hoyo et al.
1996) (due to deforestation [Meine and Archibald 1996]), uncontrolled grass and deep litter fires in the breeding season (Kampamba and Pope 1996), dam construction (del Hoyo et al.
1996, Meine and Archibald 1996) (for hydroelectric power generation [Kampamba and Pope 1996]) and groundwater extraction, leading to changes in hydrological regimes (del Hoyo et al.
1996, Meine and Archibald 1996) (e.g. unseasonal flooding [Kampamba and Pope 1996]). The species is also threatened by live-trapping (for trade), egg-collecting and hunting (Meine and Archibald 1996, Kampamba and Pope 1996, Olupot et al.
2009), and by indirect disturbance from the hunting of large mammals or ducks in wetlands and the activities of fisheries (Kampamba and Pope 1996). Preliminary studies of information from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Namibia have shown that that the illegal captive trade is particularly significant from Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda (Morrison 2008, 2009), with the demand being domestic (South Africa and Rwanda) and from the Middle/ Far East, and specifically relates to the pet trade, captive facilities and informal zoos (K. Morrison in litt. 2011). Due to human population pressure, the cranes are increasingly living in closer proximity to people, exposing them to disturbance and making them more vulnerable to hunting (W. Olupot in litt. 2011, O. Mabhachi in litt. 2012). It is also persecuted in some areas (e.g. southern Africa) due to its use of agricultural land for foraging (Hockey et al. 2005). Research has found that large numbers of Grey Crowned-cranes are killed annually by poisoning in Kenya, mainly as retaliation or to prevent of crop damage (Morrison 2008, 2009). In South Africa in particular, an increase of coal mining is threatening much of the grassland /wetland habitat where the species breeds (K. Morrison in litt. 2011). Mortality of birds due to electrocution and collision with overhead power lines is a serious threat in Uganda, South Africa and Tanzania and is likely to increase significantly in the future, across its entire range (K. Morrison in litt. 2011, J. Harris in litt. 2012).
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. Community-based wetland conservation projects have been undertaken in Kenya, with some captive breeding populations established (ARKive). Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct standardised and coordinated surveys to assess the species's total population size. Monitor population trends through regular standardised surveys and extend captive breeding efforts. Monitor rates of habitat loss and degradation. Monitor levels of hunting pressure. Discourage hunting and irresponsible pesticide use through awareness campaigns. Improve species protection and increase enforcement of hunting legislation.
Related state of the world's birds case studies
ARKive. 2010. Grey crowned-crane (Balearica regulorum). web page. Available at: http://www.arkive.org/grey-crowned-crane/balearica-regulorum/. (Accessed: 05/08/2013).
Beilfuss, R.; Dodman, T.; Urban, E. K. 2007. The status of cranes in Africa in 2005. Ostrich 78(2): 175-184.
Collar, N. J.; Butchart, S. H. M. 2013. Conservation breeding and avian diversity: chances and challenges. International Zoo Yearbook.
del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. 1996. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Hockey, P. A. R.; Dean, W. R. J.; Ryan, P. G. 2005. Roberts birds of southern Africa. Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town, South Africa.
Kampamba, G.; Pope, A. J. 1996. The conservation management of cranes in Zambia. In: Beilfuss, R. D.; Tarboton, W. R.; Gichuki, N. N. (ed.), Proceedings 1993 African crane and wetland training workshop 8-15 August 1993, Wildlife Training Institute, Maun, Botswana., pp. 249-250. International Crane Foundation, Baraboo, Wisconsin.
Meine, C. D.; Archibald, G. W. 1996. The cranes - status survey and conservation action plan. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Gland, Switzerland, and Cambridge, U.K.
Morrison, K. 2008. African Crane Trade Project â€“ Mitigation Planning Workshop. In: Morrison, K. (ed.), African Cranes, Wetlands & Communities. Newsletter 2. International Crane Foundation/ Endangered Wildlife Trust Partnership.
Morrison, K. 2009. Trade in Grey (Balearica regulorum) and Black Crowned (Balearica pavonina) Cranes. Report to CITES Animals Committee meeting 20 â€“ 24 April 2009.
Urban, E. K.; Fry, C. H.; Keith, S. 1986. The birds of Africa vol. II. Academic Press, London.
Further web sources of information
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species
International Crane Foundation Species Field Guide
Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection
Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan
Status, Survey and Conservation Action Plan
Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Derhé, M., Ekstrom, J., Malpas, L., Symes, A.
Coetzee, R., Deliry, C., Dodman, T., Harris, J., Jordan, M., Mabhachi, O., Morrison, K., Nsabagasani, C., Olupot, W., Plumptre, A., Scott, A., Scott, M., Westphal, K.
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Balearica regulorum. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 27/05/2015.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 27/05/2015.
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
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Additional resources for this species