The body of the Grey Crowned Crane is mainly gray. The wings are predominantly white, but contain feathers with colors ranging from white to brown to gold. The head is topped with a crown of stiff golden feathers. Cheek patches are white, and a red gular sack is present under the chin.
The range of the Grey Crowned Crane in eastern and southern Africa stretches from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Kenya to southeastern South Africa. They are non-migratory, but undertake variable local and seasonal movements, and are most abundant in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania.
The Grey Crowned Crane is the national bird of Uganda.
Grey Crowned Cranes require mixed wetland-grassland habitats. They typically nest within or on the edges of wetlands, while foraging in wetlands, nearby grasslands, and croplands. Grey Crowned Cranes begin their unison display in varied ways. The main vocalization is a booming call where the crane will inflate the gular sac underneath its chin and push the air out. This calling is done with the head laid against the top of the neck and then tilted back. The crane also produces peculiar honks that are quite different from the loud, bugling calls of other crane species that have much longer coiled tracheas. All cranes engage in dancing, which includes various behaviors such as head pumping, bowing, jumping, running, stick or grass tossing, and wing flapping. Dancing can occur at any age and is commonly associated with courtship, however, it is generally believed to be a normal part of motor development for cranes and can serve to thwart aggression, relieve tension, and strengthen the pair bond.
Grey Crowned Cranes have the largest average clutch size (2-5) of any cranes. Clutch size can vary with altitude. Incubation is performed by both sexes and lasts 28-31 days. While rearing chicks, adult birds will sometimes hide their young in wetlands in the evening, and then fly to roost in trees. Chicks fledge (first flight) at 56-100 days.
All cranes are omnivorous. Principal foods of the Grey Crowned Crane include tips of grasses, seeds, insects, and other invertebrates, and small vertebrates. They also forage in croplands for groundnuts, soybeans, maize, and millet. The Grey Crowned Crane’s generalist feeding strategy allows the species to adapt to human settlement. Most Grey Crowned Cranes in East Africa live in human modified landscapes.
It faces widespread and increasing threats to its habitat, particularly in the species stronghold of east Africa due to drainage, livestock overgrazing, and heavy pesticide applications. Other threats include hunting and live-trapping.