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Cape Whale Coast

Blue Crane Overberg

Blue Cranes are endemic to South Africa except for a small population of about 80 birds in the Etosha Pan, Namibia. There are 15 different crane species in the world, three of which are found in SA, i.e. Grey Crowned Crane, Wattled Crane and Blue Crane.

The Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradisea) is South Africa’s National Bird and is the only Crane that is found naturally in the Western Cape. Keep a look out in the farmlands as you drive through the Cape Whale Coast to see this elegant bird.

Facts about the Blue Crane

  • It differs from the other 2 crane species in that it is more independent of wetlands for breeding and foraging.
  • The total population of Blue Cranes is estimated to be about 20 000 with more than half of the population occurring in the Overberg and Swartland regions (i.e. grain belt – which the Cape Whale Coast is a part of).
  • It is South Africa’s National Bird and is found on the 5-cent piece.
  • It was listed as critically endangered due to the fact that the numbers dropped by roughly 80% over 20 years in the eastern parts of SA. Numbers have, however, increased tremendously in the Western Cape and it is now listed as vulnerable.
  • Their natural habitat is short grasslands but in the Western Cape they have adapted to the artificial grasslands created by the grain/ pasture system implemented by the farmers.
  • Blue Crane usually mate for life at 3 to 4 years of age. In the summer months, they lay 1 to 2 brown speckled eggs, which are camouflaged against the ground where they incubate them for 31 days.
  • The chicks are fed on a diet of mainly insects and can walk shortly after hatching. The parents are fiercely aggressive and protect their offspring as best they can.
  • They do not abandon their chicks but will sometimes hide them and move away from them to draw the predator’s attention away from the chicks. The parents will return to collect their chicks once they feel the danger has passed.
  • The chicks can fly at approximately 14/16 weeks and together with their parents congregate in large over-wintering flocks. They stay in these flocks during breeding season, while the parents return to the same breeding site (where possible) each year.
  • Adult birds eat a variety of things depending on what is available at the time of year but include grain (wheat, barley, maize), insects, lucerne and small stones (for digestion).
  • Cranes do not have a crop like most other birds.
  • Blue Cranes roost in water during the night to protect themselves from predators e.g. caracal, jackal.
  • The courtship dance is unique to this family of birds and is wonderful to watch.
  • There is little visible difference between the male and female Blue Crane and it is very difficult to distinguish between the two in a flock.
  • The long black feathers that are seen trailing behind them on the ground are, in fact, wing feathers and not tail feathers. Their tails are short and can be easily seen when the bird is in flight.

Threats to the Blue Crane in the Western Cape include: powerline collisions, fence entanglements, baling twine caught up in the legs, misuse of agrochemicals, taking of cranes out of the wild for captive purposes or illegal trade, drowning of chicks in water troughs and land use change.

Problems encountered by farmers with Blue Cranes include: crop damage just after planting as cranes feed off the grain still lying on top of the ground as well as other bulbs, tubers, worms; trampling of plants by cranes in search for insects; and cranes eating feed put out for livestock.

Some solutions to problems include: – marking of powerlines by ESKOM with flappers to increase visibility; – collecting baling twine from the field and burning it, – using agrochemicals responsibly, educating staff as to the dangers of eating poisoned meat and keeping strict control on chemicals.

Reporting any Blue Crane being kept in captivity and any information on request for cranes; – placing a pile of rocks in the corner of the water trough so that chicks can climb out; – erecting a 1 m high strand around feed troughs as cranes will not put their heads under the wire to feed but sheep will; – educating and spreading awareness about the Blue Crane to the farming community.

Blue Crane & the Law

The Blue Crane is strictly protected by the Nature Conservation Ordinances and these birds may not be kept as pets or traded without a permit and authorisation from the Nature Conservation Departments. No crane eggs, chicks or adult birds may be caught or removed from the wild and there is a heavy penalty associated if this is done.

The future of the Blue Crane lies in the hands of the private landowner, as very few Blue Cranes occur in nature reserves or protected areas. We owe it to future generations to ensure that the existence of these beautiful birds is assured. Cranes have their rightful place in the natural ecosystem and are an asset to the landowner and the nation.

Information courtesy of the Overberg Blue Crane Group.
Contact: Bronwyn Botha (Fieldworker) 082 676 1734

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