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Red-crowned Crane (Grus japonensis) Fact Sheet: Behavior & Ecology

Red-crowned Crane (Grus japonensis)

Activity Cycle

  • In general, cranes spend up to half to three-quarters of daylight hours feeding (Archibald & Meine 1996)
  • All cranes in non-breeding season feed in daytime, roost at night
  • Crane daily activities studied in China in managed care (Jinjun & Xiuhua 1998):
    • Walking and resting - 60%
    • Preening - 14.9%
    • Foraging - 22%
    • Breeding - 2.2%
    • During middle of breeding season:
      • Cranes rest less
      • Foraging and breeding behavior increased
      • Walking and preening remained the same
    • Weather significantly influenced behavior:
      • Rainy and cool days - more foraging and resting
      • Warmer days - more breeding and preening

Movements and dispersal

Home range/territory

  • When flocks roost at night, each bird stands just outside the reach of a neighbor's peck
  • Territorial during breeding season (Carpenter 1986)
  • Summer home range
    • China: 2.6 km sq (1 mi sq)
    • Japan: 1-7 km sq (0.4-2.7 mi sq)
    • Russia: 4-12 km sq (1.5-4.6 mi sq)
  • Breeding density and territory size depend on available food (Archibald & Meine 1996)
    • One pair may occupy small area of only 500 ha (1,236 acres) of isolated wetlands
    • Alternately, a larger wetland of several thousand acres with good visibility may be occupied

Dispersal and migration

  • Annual cycle consists of breeding, migrating, wintering periods (Ma 1981)
    • Migration is divided into a spring and a fall phase
  • Breeding populations found in:
    • Southeast Russia
    • Northeast China
    • Mongolia
    • Eastern Hokkaido, Japan
  • Red-crowned cranes are both migratory and non-migratory
    • Nearly sedentary Japanese populations on Hokkaido move 150 km (93 mi) between wintering area and summer habitat (Archibald & Meine 1996)
    • Russian and Chinese populations migrate across northeast China and divide into smaller populations (Archibald & Meine 1996) (IUCN 2009)
      • Across North Korea to winter near Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) of North and South Korea
      • Along N China Sea to winter in coastal areas around Jiangsu and Yellow River delta
  • Juveniles remain with parents into non-breeding season; at season's end leave or are driven off
  • Unpaired juveniles gather in nomadic, non-breeding flocks
  • Juveniles fly with parents for their first migration and thus learn the route


Displays (Archibald & Meine 1996)

  •  Like all cranes, noted for dance behavior
    • Components of dancing include:
      • Jerky bouncing
      • Graceful leaping into the air
      • Running with outstretched wings
    • Motivations for dance behavior
      • Exercise and play for chicks as young as 2 days
      • Establishing pair-bonding for young adult birds
      • Maintaining pair-bonding in adults
      • Perhaps thwarting aggression in adults
      • Simulating reproductive condition


  • Voice high pitched and penetrating (Archibald & Meine 1996)
  • Hatchlings first utter trills, then begin to chirp when begging for food (Klenova et al. 2007)
  • Adolescent cranes develop preflight calls, disturbance-related calls (Klenova et al. 2007)
  • Voices of adults categorized: Archibald (1975) and Vinter (1981)
    • Location call - a quiet exchange between two parents or males on feeding grounds at night
    • Flight intention call and flight call
    • Alarm call - similar to location call but sharper and abrupt
    • Guard call - loudest, heard 4-5 km (2.5 - 3.1 mi) away; given at appearance of humans or when a crane oversteps its territory into a neighbor's
    • Unison call - male and female pair trumpet
    • Agitation call
  • Cranes develop adult voices by 10-11 months (Klenova et al. 2007)
    • Young voices: high pitched, stimulate care from parents, reduce aggression
    • Adult voice: low pitched, develop rapidly at onset of independence
    • Social cues seem to stimulate this transition; attaining adult size does not
  • Males and females can be distinguished on the basis of their unison calls (Swengel 1996b) (Archibald 1976):
    • Male raises wing, often with each note uttered
    • Female does not raise wing
    • Female voice higher pitched; gives 2-3 notes for each male note

Agonistic Behavior and Defense

  •  A personal space of 2-3 m (6.6-9.8 ft) maintained between cranes (Britton & Hayashida 1981)
    • Breaching of this boundary may provoke attack
  • Common aggressive postures include: (Archibald & Meine 1996):
    • Stand upright with feathers smoothed
    • Protrude thighs
    • Head feathers expanded
    • Walk in stiff, jerky steps
    • Flap, ruffle, bow, stomp
    • False preening
    • Snort and growl
  • "Crouch threat" (Archibald & Meine 1996)
    • Lowers self to ground
    • Folds wings
    • Extends head, showing red patch
  • "Ruffle Threat" (Archibald & Meine 1996)
    • Lifts feathers on neck, wings and back
    • Opens and lowers wings
    • Ruffles wings in alternating pattern
    • Lowers bill as if ready to preen
  • "Charge" (Archibald & Meine 1996)
    • Neck and head pointed straight down
    • Feathers lifted on neck and back
    • Red skin patch on head appears prominent
  • When frightened (Archibald & Meine 1996):
    • Wings spread and body arched forward
    • Approaches object of fear
  • When submissive (Archibald & Meine 1996):
    • Neck lowered
    • Body feathers elevated
    • Feathers on head lowered and red skin on head deflates

Territorial Behavior

  • Live and breed in flocks
  • Mated pairs defend nesting territory

Interspecies Interactions

  • Occurs with white-naped crane, Grus vipio, in Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ) (Lee et al. 2007)
    • Red-crowned crane is dominant as evidenced in threat postures and fights elsewhere
    • Red-crowned cranes seem to benefit from this association by having higher feeding activity
    • Negative effects not seen in white-naped cranes; their feeding rates are not affected
    • Both species show less vigilance when feeding together
    • Conservation planning should take this association into consideration
  • In Amur wetlands of Russia (Vinter 1981):
    • Incubating cranes indifferent to many nearby bird species, such as:
      • Red footed falcons
      • Buzzards
      • Long and short-eared owls
      • Pied harrier
      • Magpies
      • Japanese quail
      • Schrenk's bitterns
      • Stonechats
      • Grasshopper warblers
      • Yellow breasted buntings
      • Gray-hooded buntings
    • Crane parents with young gave warning calls when some predatory birds approached:
      • Marsh harrier
      • Black kites
      • Buzzards
      • Marsh harriers
      • Pallas' sea eagles
    • Incubating cranes responded aggressively to spotted eagles (Aquila clanga)
      • Attack made by parent not actively sitting on the egg
  • An incubating crane once observed following a wolf (by walking) until the wolf entered the forest (Vinter 1981)
  • Dogs, foxes, raccoon dogs, badgers, martens are chased away by parent cranes but may prey on young (Vinter 1981)
  • Crows and ravens prey on eggs and hatchlings; birds of prey on older individuals (USGS 2006)
  • On Hokkaido, escaped mink may be significant predators (USGS 2006)


  • Terrestrial locomotion
    • Walk slowly, holding neck in slight curve, body horizontal (Neufeldt 1981)
    • Can run up to 40 km/hr (25 mph) (Neufeldt 1981)
  • Flight
    • Take to air easily after short run (Neufeldt 1981)
    • Fly in straight lines or V formations (Ma 1981)
    • Every 2 years flight feathers all fall out at the same time
  • Other
    • All cranes can swim; chicks are better swimmers than adults (ICF 2011)
    • Cranes are exclusively ground and water birds (Neufeldt 1981)
      • Do not roost or nest in trees (with exception of one African species)
      • Rest, especially in winter, with one leg tucked up

To Preen or Not to Preen

Red crowned Crane preening

Red-crowned Cranes spend about 60% of their time resting and preening.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Archibald (1975)
Archibald (1976)
Archibald & Meine (1996)
ICF (2011)
Jinjun & Xiuhua (1998)
Lee et al. (2007)
Ma (1981)
Meine & Archibald (1996)
Swengel (1996b)

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