Lee Richardson Zoo

Demoiselle Crane

Order Gruiformes - cranes, limpkins, rails, gallinules, coots
Family Gruidae - cranes

Scientific Name:  Anthropoides virgo


DescriptionThe smallest of the cranes, Demoiselle cranes stand about 3 feet tall.  Plumage is light gray on the back and sides with darker gray on the head, throat and breast, and white feather tufts on each side of the head.  Unlike other cranes, the entire head is feathered.  Wings are long and often reach beyond the short tails.  The beak is short and sturdy.  Females are slightly smaller than males.  The call is low pitched and raspy.


Home Range:  Breeding range lies east from the Ukraine to Siberia and places in northwest Africa. They winter in northeast and east Africa and central India.


Habitat Type:  Though demoiselles breed in marshy areas, they prefer arid grasslands during the winter.


Reproduction:  Cranes mate for life and are famous for their dancing rituals.  Though dancing is not limited to courtship purposes, it does serve to strengthen pair bonds.  Unison calls also play a part in ensuring that partners come into breeding conditions at the same time.  The breeding season is usually in the spring, but may be as late as June in northern latitudes.  Demoiselle cranes build nests on the ground in a sheltered spot, such as an island.  The nests consist of dried plant material, but specific materials vary from pair to pair.  A clutch is normally two long, oval shaped eggs that are brown flecked with dark brown.  Both sexes help to incubate the eggs, which hatch after about 30 days.  The young fledge in 55-65 days (the shortest period of any crane).  Juveniles are mature by their second year.


Diet in Wild:  Insects, seeds, lizards, worms, snakes, and other small vertebrates and invertebrates.


Diet in Zoo:  Insects and live prey in yard, layer ration, ground dog food, and produce.


General Information:  Demoiselle cranes prefer grasslands and their short bills aid them in foraging for grass seeds and insects, while short toes enable them to run easily through the grass.  In India, Demoiselle cranes have been domesticated and kept as “watchbirds” to kill insects and snakes.  Because they do not have the elongated trachea of other cranes, their call is not as loud.

Conservation status:  Though not globally threatened, habitat destruction and the use of pesticides have taken their toll on demoiselle populations.  They have been driven out of much of their historic range in Western Europe.  Cranes as a family are one of the most threatened groups of birds on the planet.  Crane pairs prefer the same breeding grounds year after year, and so habitat destruction is particularly harmful to them as they may not be able to adapt to human-induced changes in their environment.  However, because nearly all cranes migrate across international borders, crane conservation has encouraged countries to work together to solve problems.  In protecting crane habitat, governments have protected habitats for many other kinds of animals.  Listed on CITES appendix ll.


PredatorsNo information found.


Related BiofactsSkull and feathers in biofact closet.



Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia Vol. 8 Birds II. 1975. Bernhard Grzimek. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co. New York. Pp. 114-123.

Handbook of the Birds of the World Vol. 3. 1996. Josep del Hoyo, Ed. Et al. Lynx Edicions. Barcelona. Pp. 60-61, 64-80, 82.