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Blue Crane Anthropoides paradiseus

This species has declined rapidly, largely owing to direct poisoning, power-line collisions and loss of its grassland breeding habitat owing to afforestation, mining, agriculture and development. It is therefore listed as Vulnerable. Although probably stable at present, a variety of threats including power line collisions, wind farms, mining, climate change affecting the agricultural landscape, and capture for trade could easily trigger future declines unless appropriate conservation measures are implemented.

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.

Taxonomic note
Grus virgo and G. paradisea (Sibley and Monroe 1990, 1993; AERC TAC 2003) have been transferred to the genus Anthropoides, a treatment adopted by Dowsett and Forbes-Watson (1993), Cramp and Simmon

Anthropoides paradisea Dowsett and Forbes-Watson (1993), Grus paradisea (Lichtenstein, 1793)

100 -120 cm. Small, blue-grey crane. Overall greyish at distance, with long, decurved "tail" (very long tertials). Very pale blue, unusually large head, with proportionately thin neck. Similar spp. Immature Wattled Crane A. carunculatus very much larger, with white on breast and neck. Voice Loud, guttural ringing calls, often made when flying or in pairs. Typical crane-like honkings. Hints Sometimes in large flocks in open pastures in the eastern grasslands of South Africa, grassy Karoo, Western Cape wheatlands (South Africa) and in smaller flocks on the grasslands within and north of Etosha National Park, Namibia.

Distribution and population
Anthropoides paradiseus is near-endemic to South Africa, with small breeding populations also in northern Namibia (c.35 birds at Etosha, isolated but stable [Simmons et al. 2006, K. Morrison in litt. 2012] after rapidly declining in 1980s-1990s) and western Swaziland (c.12 birds) (Parker 1994), and it is occasionally seen in Lesotho (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007). In South Africa, numbers in the south and south-western Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal have increased as the species has expanded into agricultural areas (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007) but, overall, the national population has fallen by half since the 1970s, with dramatic declines in many former strongholds, e.g. of up to 80% in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and Eastern Cape during the 1980s (Barnes 2000). The increase in the Western Cape has accompanied the conversion of fynbos and renosterveld vegetation to agricultural land (McCann et al. 2007). The population in the central Karoo region is presently stable (McCann et al. 2007). In Namibia the largest recent count is of 67 birds at Etosha in 2006, while further sightings since 2006 include and 38 birds at Lake Oponono and 25 near Mamili National Park, c.900 km east of Etosha, which may represent isolated populations or possibly wanderers from the Etosha population (Benadie 2010). The population has been estimated at c.25,700 individuals (Simmons et al. 1996, McCann et al. 2005), but more recently at over 25,580 individuals (Beilfuss et al. 2007), with a minimum of 25,520 in South Africa (McCann et al. 2007).

Population justification
The population has been estimated at over 25,580 individuals, with a minimum of 25,520 in South Africa.

Trend justification
In South Africa, numbers in the south and south-western Western Cape have increased as the species has expanded into agricultural areas, although the national population has fallen by half since the 1970s (Archibald and Meine 1996, Barnes 2000). Evidence suggests that populations in Namibia (R. Simmons in litt. 2007) and the central Karoo region of South Africa (McCann et al. 2007) are stable. The overall population is presumed to have declined by 30-49% over the last 39 years (three generations) until further evidence to support on-going stability and increases in local populations is obtained.

Behaviour This species is a partial migrant which makes local, seasonal movements across elevational gradients (best documented in Natal) (Barnes 2000, Vernon et al. 1992). There is also some movement into the Karoo biome during the winter months (Vernon et al. 1992). However in some areas it appears to be resident or locally nomadic (Hockey et al. 2005). It breeds, usually at high elevations, between August and April, with a distinct peak in November in South Africa, December to March in Namibia, and November in Botswana (Hockey et al. 2005). It is a territorial, solitary breeder (Hockey et al. 2005), and while nesting has been found to occur at a density of 0.57 pairs per square kilometre of appropriate habitat (Barnes 2000). After breeding there is movement to lower altitudes, where the species becomes highly congregatory, occurring regularly in flocks of around 50 (Filmer and Holtshausen 1992), and occasionally numbering up to 1000 (Hockey et al. 2005). It roosts at night, often communally, with roosts being known to comprise hundreds and sometimes thousands of birds (Hockey et al. 2005). Habitat Breeding This species breeds in natural grass- and sedge-dominated habitats, preferring secluded grasslands at high elevations where the vegetation is thick and short (Barnes 2000). Occasionally it will breed in or near wetland areas (Barnes 2000), in pans or on islands in dams (Hockey et al. 2005). Particularly in W Cape of South Africa it also uses lowland agricultural areas, particularly pasture, fallow fields and cereal crop fields as stubble becomes available after harvest (Barnes 2000, Hockey et al. 2005). A few pairs in this area also breed in the coastal dunes (Hockey et al. 2005). Non-breeding During the non-breeding season the species occurs at lower altitudes (Walkinshaw 1973). It inhabits short, dry, natural grasslands, as well as the Karoo and fynbos biomes (Barnes 2000). In the Karoo it is mainly restricted to areas where summer rainfall exceeds 300mm (Hockey et al. 2005) and where grassland vegetation rather than scrub is dominant (Barnes 2000). In the fynbos it occurs almost exclusively in cultivated habitats, largely avoiding the natural vegetation (Barnes 2000), although this habitat may provide important cover for juveniles (Bidwell et al. 2006). The agricultural habitats that it uses include pastures, croplands, particularly where cereal crops are grown (Barnes 2000), and fallow fields. It is intolerant of intensively grazed and burnt grassland (Hockey et al. 2005). It roosts in shallow wetlands (Barnes 2000, Hockey et al. 2005). Diet This species feeds primarily on plant material including the seeds of sedges and grasses, roots, tubers and small bulbs (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Hockey et al. 2005). It also takes a variety of animals including insects such as locusts and their eggs, grasshoppers, termites and caterpillars, worms, crabs, fish, frogs, reptiles and small mammals (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Hockey et al. 2005). In agricultural areas it feeds on cereal grains such as wheat and maize, and also eats invertebrate crop pests (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Hockey et al. 2005). Breeding site In wetland breeding sites the nest is a simple pad of wetland vegetation (Hockey et al. 2005, Walkinshaw 1973). Elsewhere it may consist of a layer of small stones, dry vegetation or mammal dung (Hockey et al. 2005, Walkinshaw 1973), or eggs may be laid directly on the grass or on bare ground (Barnes 2000). Preferred nesting sites usually have good all-round visibility (Hockey et al. 2005).

The main factors behind its drastic population decline since the 1970s were widespread poisoning on agricultural land (both intentional and accidental [Barnes 2000]) and the commercial afforestation of large tracts of its grassland nesting habitat (Barnes 2000). Poisoning has decreased dramatically over the last few years. Accidental poisoning, however, still occurs occasionally when grain is soaked in agrochemicals for the capture of wildlife for food, although cranes are not usually the target species, and also as a result of the misuse of agrochemicals (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007). Cranes are social birds and poisoning incidences often involve a number of individuals (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007). Afforestation is ongoing and large tracts of suitable grassland habitat have been designated for afforestation over the few years following 2007 in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Western Cape (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007). Other major threats include collision with power-lines, which is now arguably the major cause of mortality and could have been a major hidden cause before lines were monitored (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007, Shaw et al. 2010), entanglement with fences, illegal capture of fledglings (for food and a growing threat from local and international trade, K. Morrison in litt. 2012), predation by domestic dogs and the drowning of chicks in water-troughs (Barnes 2000). In the Overberg, Western Cape, which holds approximately half the global population, modelling gave a conservative estimate that c.12% (95% CI 5-23%) of the Blue Crane population in the study area is killed annually in power-line collisions (Shaw et al. 2010), which exceeds the maximum annual adult mortality rate of 7.5% beyond which a population viability assessment predicts the Western Cape population would be unable to persist (Shaw et al. 2010). In the Western Cape, the species is threatened by a change in agricultural crops and increases in the human population in agricultural areas (Bidwell et al. 2006, K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007, Shaw et al. 2010). Climate change could force changes in agricultural practices that may be detrimental to the species (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007). Prolonged dry spells and the resultant competition with domestic stock for habitat at such times are considered a major threat in Namibia (R. Simmons in litt. 1999, K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007).

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. CMS Appendix II. Conservation measures have expanded in scale since the mid-1980s, including efforts to mitigate power-line collisions, addressing illegal trade, the adoption of stricter legal protection, local and national surveys in South Africa, increasing research on the species's biology and ecology, habitat protection and management programmes (especially on private land), establishment of local conservation organisations, and the development of educational facilities, programmes and publications (Archibald and Meine 1996, Barnes 2000). The introduction of more ecologically sensitive agrochemicals and tighter controls over their use has reduced the number of poisoning events (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007). The formation of a Crane Working Group in Namibia has facilitated education, surveys, ringing and protection (R. Simmons in litt. 2007). Future studies in Namibia will assess whether its population is genetically isolated from that in South Africa, and will use transmitters to help study habitat use, their choice of breeding areas and the occurrence of inter-breeding (Simmons et al. 2006). Conservation Actions Proposed
Prevent conversion of grassland habitat to other land uses and secure sites critical to cranes in the grasslands (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007). Monitor the species's population trends through regular surveys. Include habitat management in future planning of afforestable regions (Barnes 2000). Encourage more responsible use of agrochemicals (Barnes 2000). Target awareness campaigns at the farming community so as to increase awareness and reduce deliberate poisoning of cranes for food (Barnes 2000, K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007). Further research the impacts and risk factors involved in power-line collisions, and use the results of this research to make hazardous power-lines more visible with appropriate devices (Barnes 2000, Shaw et al. 2010). Discourage the taking of fledglings from the wild (Barnes 2000). Encourage the retention of a mosaic of pasture and cereal cultivation in the Western Cape (Bidwell et al. 2006). Increase conservation protection of grasslands and wetlands north of Etosha National Park (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007) and establish captive breeding populations to support future reintroduction and supplementation efforts. A Biodiversity Management Plan for Species for cranes, as outlined in the National Biodiversity Act (2004) would encourage national support for crane conservation efforts.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Archibald, G. W.; Meine, C. D. 1996. Gruidae (Cranes). In: del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. (ed.), Handbook of the birds of the world, pp. 60-89. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Barnes, K. N. 2000. The Eskom Red Data Book of birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.

Beilfuss, R.; Dodman, T.; Urban, E. K. 2007. The status of cranes in Africa in 2005. Ostrich 78(2): 175-184.

Benadie, M. 2010. Code Blue. Africa - Birds & Birding 15(1): 14.

Bidwell, M. T.; Ryan, P.; Shaw, K. 2006. Habitat selection and reproductive success in Blue Cranes in a South African agricultural landscape. Journal of Ornithology 147(5): 99.

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.

Harrison, J. A.; Allan, D. G.; Underhill, L. G.; Herremans, M.; Tree, A. J.; Parker, V.; Brown, C. J. 1997. The atlas of southern African birds. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.

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.

McCann, K.; Theron, L-J.; Morrison, K. 2007. Conservation priorities for the Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradiseus) in South Africa - the effects of habitat changes on distribution and numbers. Ostrich 78(2): 205-211.

Parker, V. 1994. Swaziland bird atlas 1985--1991. Webster's, Mbabane.

Shaw, J. M.; Jenkins, A. R.; Smallie, J. J.; Ryan, P. G. 2010. Modelling power-line collision risk for the Blue Crane Anthropoides paradiseus in South Africa. Ibis 152: 590-599.

Simmons, R. E.; Trewby, I.; Trewby, M. 1996. Are Etosha's Blue Cranes declining? African Wildlife 50: 32-34.

Simmons, R.; Brown, C.; Cunningham, P.; Kapofi, I.; Kolberg, H.; Scott, A.; Scott, M.; Versfeld, W. 2006. Etosha Blues: Cranes hang on in Namibia. Africa - Birds & Birding 11(4): 51.

Vernon, C. J., Boshoff, A. F., and Stretton, W. S. 1992. The status and conservation of cranes in the Eastern Cape Province. Proc. First S. Afr. Crane Conf.: 47-72.

Walkinshaw LH. 1973. Winchester Press, New York.

Further web sources of information
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
Ekstrom, J., Evans, M., Pilgrim, J., Shutes, S., Symes, A., Taylor, J.

Anderson, M., Gibbons, B., Morrison, K., Scott, A., Scott, M., Shaw, K., Theron, L.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2014) Species factsheet: Anthropoides paradiseus. Downloaded from on 28/07/2014. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2014) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 28/07/2014.

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.

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Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Blue crane (Anthropoides paradiseus) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Gruidae (Cranes)
Species name author (Lichtenstein, 1793)
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Stable
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 887,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- Projected distributions under climate change