Japanese Red-Crowned Crane


Scientific Name

Grus japonensis

Species Survival Plan







Wetland plants in fall, winter and early spring; insects and other invertebrates during breeding season

Originally Native To

Japan, China, Russia and North Korea


48-60 inches tall


12 - 20 lb.


Long-legged, tall white bird with a black neck; black patches on its wings and red on top of its head; long beak

Gestation Period

31 days


2 eggs

Birth Season

April and May


Wild 20 years
Captivity 40 years

Social Behavior

Monogamous for life


About Japanese Red-Crowned Crane

The Japanese red-crowned crane is the second-rarest crane species with a total population in the wild of approximately 1,800 birds. It is illegal to hunt them in all nations where they normally occur.

On average, red-crowned cranes are the heaviest crane species, weighing up to 25 pounds. The red-crowned crane is named for the red "cap" on top of its head, which is exposed red skin.

Japanese red-crowned cranes have been maintained in captivity for centuries and are known to have bred in captivity since 1861. Highly aquatic birds with large home ranges, these cranes feed in water, using a “walk-and-peck” technique.

They feed in deeper water than other cranes, plus they prefer to nest in marshes with relatively deep water and standing, dead vegetation. From summer to fall, they also forage regularly on pasturelands in Japan, and in winter they use coastal salt marshes, rivers, freshwater marshes, rice paddies, and cultivated fields.

The omnivorous birds feed on a variety of small aquatic invertebrates, fish, amphibians, rodents, reeds, grasses, heath berries, corn, and other plants. In the winter, they move to paddy fields where they feed on rice. During the winter, the Japanese population feeds on corn at artificial feeding stations.

In the 1950s, farmers began spreading corn on their fields for the birds to eat during the long winter. This annual ritual, as well as marking electrical lines, helped bring the Japanese red-crowned crane back from certain extinction.

The crane's long-coiled windpipe enables it to trumpet so loudly it can be heard more than a mile away.

Red-crowned cranes are well adapted to cold temperatures. Japanese red-crowned cranes breed in northeastern China and adjacent parts of Russia. They migrate to coastal China and the Korean Peninsula. They prefer to nest and feed in marshes.

There is also a sedentary group on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. A substantial amount of breeding habitat has been lost to agricultural development and other human economic activities.

The cranes pair for life; and their reputations for fidelity have made them a favorite motif on wedding kimonos. They have been honored for hundreds of years as symbols of good luck, happiness, and love. These cranes are considered sacred in Japan.

Red-crowned cranes are very communal and live in flocks. Their family group is the largest social organization of cranes.

Red-crowned crane pairs are generally monogamous. Females usually lay two eggs and incubation (by both sexes) lasts 29-34 days. The male takes the primary role in defending the nest against possible danger. Chicks fledge, or take their first flight, at about 95 days.

When the young cranes are three months old, they accompany their parents while looking for food in the wetlands. They are able to fly by autumn. Families stay intact until the next breeding season when the young adults leave the parents.

At Fossil Rim, these cranes live in the Jim Jackson Intensive Management Area near the adult Attwater's prairie chickens.


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