Overview

Brief Summary

Description

The elegant blue crane is the national bird of South Africa (6). As the common name suggests, it is pale blue in colour, although it can appear grey from a distance (2). It is a relatively small crane with a large head, thick neck and beautiful elongated wing feathers, known as tertials that trail behind this bird and are often mistaken for tail feathers (6). Most cranes have red patches of skin on their heads that are used in display. The blue crane does not have these bare patches, but instead has head feathers that can be erected when excited or during aggressive encounters (6). This species produces loud honking calls typical of cranes (2).
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Biology

This crane feeds mainly on the seeds of grasses and sedges, waste grains, insects and a range of small vertebrates (8). Unlike other species of crane that probe the ground with their bills, the blue crane tends to take above-ground resources (6). Courtship involves a 'dance' in which the male chases the female, interrupted with leaps, bows and bouts of calling (6). Nesting occurs during summer, usually from September to February, and the typical nesting site is secluded grassland at high elevations. The eggs are laid in the grass or on bare ground (8). Nesting occasionally occurs in wetlands, in which case a platform nest of reeds is constructed (8). Two eggs are usually produced per clutch, and these are incubated for 30 to 33 days. The young become fully fledged after 3-5 months (8). Blue cranes undertake local migrations, moving to lower elevations in autumn and winter with their chicks. Flocking is known to occur throughout the year but is more common during the winter when large flocks of several hundred birds form (8).
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Distribution

Range Description

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).

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Southern Africa: E and S South Africa; Etosha Pan, Namibia.

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Range

Locally in n Namibia, s Zimbabwe and South Africa.
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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Range

The blue crane has the most restricted distribution of the 15 crane species (7). They are endemic to southern Africa, with 99% of the population occurring in South Africa (8). There are also small and declining breeding populations in northern Namibia (comprising of about 60 birds) and western Swaziland (just 12 birds) (2). This crane occurs as an occasional vagrant in northwestern Cape Province, northern Transvaal, Lesotho and Botswana (8). As recently as 1980, this species was considered to be healthy and not threatened (8). However, In South Africa, the population has declined by 50% since the 1970s (2). Recent estimates put the population at 21,000 birds, but 60-70% of these are non-breeding individuals (2).
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Ecology

Habitat

Highveld Grasslands Habitat

This species can be found in the Highveld grasslands ecoregion in southern Africa. This ecoregion now provides the last remaining stronghold of a number of grassland species that have suffered major reductions in abundance in the grassland biome, and which are consequently threatened with extinction (e.g. the Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradisea). There is a relatively biodiverse vertebrate fauna, with 608 taxa recorded.

The dominant vegetation comprises grasses, with geophytes and herbs also being well represented. Dominant and diagnostic grass species are Thatching Grass (Hyparrhenia hirta) and Catstail Dropseed Grass (Sporobolus pyramidalis). Non-grassy forbs include False Paperbark Thorn (Acacia sieberiana), Rhus vulgaris, Selago densiflora, Spermacoce natalensis, Aandblom (Kohautia cynanchica), and Phyllanthus glaucophyllus. Relatively high precipitation levels sustain the grasslands during the austral summer, with the mean annual range between 400 to 900 millimetres.

The Highveld grassland ecoregion can be divided into three habitat types: (1) Kalahari/Karoo-highveld transition zone; (2) sweet grasslands; and (3) sour grasslands. In the western half of the ecoregion, a gradual transition occurs from the Karoo/Kalahari-highveld transition zone to the grassland habitats of the Highveld. Shrubs and trees grow in the transition zone, although grasses still dominate this zone.

Bird species richness is relatively high within this ecoregion. However, Botha’s Lark (Spizocorys fringillaris) is the only bird species strictly endemic to the ecoregion, where it inhabits heavily grazed grassland. An additional six avian species are near-endemics including White-winged Flufftail (Sarothrura ayresii), Blue Korhaan (Eupodotis caerulescens), White-bellied Bustard (Eupodotis senegalensis), Rudd’s lark (Heteromirafra ruddi), the Near Threatened Melodious lark (Mirafra cheniana), Buff-streaked chat (Saxicola bifasciatus), and the Vulnerable Yellow-breasted pipit (Anthus chloris).

This ecoregion contains a higher number of mammals, although only the Orange Mouse (Mus orangiae) is restricted to the ecoregion, and the Rough-haired Golden Mole (Chrysospalax villosa) is near-endemic. The ecoregion also supports populations of several large mammal species, some of which are rare in southern Africa (Stuart and Stuart 1995). Among these are the Vulnerable Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), Brown Hyena (Hyaena brunnea), African Civet Cat (Civettictis civetta), Leopard (Panthera pardus), Sable Antelope (Hippotragus niger), Ground Pangolin (Manis temminckii), Honey Badger (Mellivora capensis), African Striped Weasel (Poecilogale albinucha), Aardwolf (Proteles cristatus), Oribi (Ourebia ourebi), and Hartmann's Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra hartmannae). Herds of large mammals, including Black Wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou) and White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum), previously occurred in the Highveld grasslands, but were extirpated by the local human population. Other notable mammalian taxa occurring in the ecoregion include the Vulnerable Juliana's golden mole (Neamblysomus julianae).

Relatively few reptile species occur within the Highveld grasslands, mainly due to its cool climate. However, the ecoregion supports some of Africa’s most characteristic reptile species, including Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus), African Rock-python (Python sebae), Nile Monitor (Varanus niloticus) and Veld Monitor (Varanus albigularis albigularis). There are also two strictly endemic reptiles: Giant Girdled Lizard (Cordylus giganteus) and Agama aculeata distanti (Branch 1998). Several additional reptile species are near-endemics, including Drakensberg Rock gecko (Afroedura niravia), the Vulnerable Giant Girdled Lizard (Cordylus giganteus), and Breyer's Whip Lizard (Tetradactylus breyeri) (Branch 1998).

Twenty-nine amphibians occur within the ecoregion but none are endemic (Passmore and Carruthers 1995). Example anuran species in the Highveld grasslands are the Kimberley Toad (Amietophrynus poweri), African Dwarf Toad (Poyntonophrynus vertebralis), who breeds in temporary shallow pans, freshwater pools or depressions containing rainwater; the Red Toad (Schismaderma carens); Cape River Frog (Amietia fuscigula). endemic of the high slopes of the Drakensberg Mountains and Lesotho Highlands; South African Snake-necked Frog (Phrynomantis bifasciatus), typically found under loose sand below large rocks or boulders.

  • C. Michael Hogan & World Wildlife Fund. 2015. Highveld grasslands. Encyclopedia of Earth. National Council for Science and Environment. Washington DC
  • J.P.H. Acocks. 1988. Veld types of South Africa. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa 57: 1-146. (An update of the first edition published in 1953),
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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
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).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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Dry upland grassland, roosts and nests in wetlands

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This crane breeds in dry grasslands at high elevations where there is less disturbance (6) (7). They may roost and breed in wetlands if available (7) and some individuals prefer to nest in arable and pastureland (2). In autumn and winter they usually move to lower altitudes (7).
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Dispersal

Movements and dispersal

Resident

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Anthropoides paradiseus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Barcode data: Grus paradisea

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There is 1 barcode sequence available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is the sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen.

Other sequences that do not yet meet barcode criteria may also be available.

AATCGATGATTATTCTCAACCAACCACAAAGATATCGGAACCCTCTACCTAATCTTCGGCGCATGGGCCGGCATAATTGGCACTGCTCTC---AGCCTACTAATCCGCGCAGAACTCGGCCAACCAGGAAGCCTATTAGGGGAC---GACCAAATCTATAATGTAATCGTCACCGCCCACGCCTTCGTAATAATTTTCTTCATAGTCATACCCATCATGATTGGAGGGTTCGGAAATTGACTAGTCCCACTCATA---ATTGGTGCCCCCGACATAGCATTCCCACGCATAAACAATATAAGCTTCTGACTCCTCCCTCCATCCTTTTTGCTACTACTCGCCTCCTCCACAGTAGAAGCAGGAGCAGGTACAGGATGAACAGTCTACCCACCACTAGCTGGCAACTTAGCCCATGCCGGAGCTTCAGTAGACCTA---GCCATCTTCTCCCTTCACTTAGCAGGTGTATCCTCCATTCTAGGGGCAATTAATTTCATCACAACAGCCATCAACATAAAACCACCAGCCCTATCACAATACCAAACACCCCTATTCGTGTGATCTGTCCTAATTACCGCCGTCCTATTACTGCTCTCTCTCCCAGTCCTTGCTGCT---GGCATCACCATGTTACTAACAGACCGAAACCTCAATACTACATTCTTCGACCCTGCTGGAGGGGGAGATCCAGTCCTGTATCAACATCTCTTCTGATTCTTCGGCCACCCAGAAGTCTATATTCTGATCCTCCCAGGTTTTGGAATCATCTCTCACGTAGTAACCTACTACGCAGGCAAAAAA---GAACCATTCGGCTATATAGGAATAGTATGAGCTATACTATCTATCGGATTCCTAGGCTTCATCGTATGAGCCCACCATATATTTACAGTAGGAATAGACGTAGATACTCGAGCATACTTCACATCCGCCACCATAATCATTGCTATTCCAACTGGCATTAAAGTCTTTAGCTGATTA---GCCACACTACACGGAG
-- end --

Download FASTA File

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Grus paradisea

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
VU
Vulnerable

Red List Criteria
A2acde

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2013

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S.

Contributor/s
Anderson, M.D., Gibbons, B., Morrison, K., Scott, A., Scott, M., Shaw, K. & Theron, L.

Justification
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.


History
  • 2012
    Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
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