A day in the life of … a Vulnerable Blue Crane

blue crane

A day in the life of … a Vulnerable Blue Crane

Did you know that the Blue Crane’s name comes from the Latin word paradiseus, meaning ‘paradise’? It is thought that those who named us, likened us to angels of paradise. But you may know me as the Blue Crane.
I am endemic to South Africa and also happen to be the National Bird of South Africa too. I enjoy spending time in open grasslands and marshy wetlands, but will also graze on dwarf shrubland and dry grassland, but only where rainfall averages more than 300 mm per year.


If there are shallow wetlands available, they make a good place for use to roost. We tend to live mostly in natural vegetation in the eastern parts of South Africa (e.g. Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal), and also are sometimes found feeding on cultivated pastures and croplands. Sometimes our family are found in the Western Cape in croplands too.


Our diet is quite varied consisting of plant material such as small bulbs, seeds and roots, and animals such as insects (especially grasshoppers), small reptiles, frogs, fish, crustaceans and small mammals. But we will also eat fallen grains, e.g. wheat and maize kernels, and lucerne leaves.


Blue Cranes are monogamous and when we breed we nest with our partner alone, away from other Blue Cranes. We are territorial when breeding, so we are sure to chase others away from our nest site and its vicinity. Our prime nesting sites are in secluded grasslands in higher elevations where our eggs are laid in the grass or on the ground. In agricultural areas, we tend to nest in pastures and fallow fields, and in crop fields where stubble becomes available after harvest. In winter, when we are not breeding, we are sociable and nomadic, whereas in the summertime we are settled and dispersed as breeding pairs. We are single brooded, which means we breed once a year. We only lay two eggs, which are taken care of by both of us for 30 days until they hatch. The siblings that hatch are usually quite aggressive, which means that mostly only one survives. They tend to have their first flight between 3 – 5 months old.

Our Numbers

We used to proliferate in the 60’s and 70’s in the Free State and the Western Cape. Threats to our habitat include a sharp increase in human population growth, the loss and degradation of our habitat through forestation with alien pine and gum trees, our eggs being eaten by dogs, collisions with transmission lines, urbanisation, and crop farming and poisoning by farmers.


The Blue Crane is culturally considered to be a special bird to amaXhosa tribe, who call it indwe. When a man has distinguished himself by deeds of bravery, or any noble form of conduct, he would be given our feathers by the Chief to acknowledge this. After a battle, the Chief would organise a ceremony called ukundzabela – a ceremony for the heroes, at which feathers would be presented.

There are only about 25 000 of our Blue Cranes remaining in the world, about half of which can be found in the Cape Overberg. All populations of Blue Crane require ongoing and thorough monitoring, as well as the implementation of appropriate management strategies in farming areas.

The South African Government has enforced legal protection for our Blue Crane. Other conservation measures that have been implemented are focusing on research, habitat management, education and recruiting the help of private landowners.

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Source: SANBI