The Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) is a species of bird found in northernPakistan and India, Nepal, Southeast Asia and Queensland, Australia. It is a permanent resident of freshwater marshes and plains with little seasonal movement. This species is classified as Vulnerable, as the total global population has drastically declined since about 1980. This decline is expected to continue until at least 2010. Threats include habitat destruction, hunting, pollution, disease and competition from other species. Populations in the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand are now extinct.
This is a very tall crane, averaging 5 feet in length. The adult is gray with a bare red head and white crown and a long pointed bill. Its long neck is kept straight in flight, and the black wing tips are easily seen. They have long red-pink legs. Sexes are similar in plumage, although young birds are duller and browner. The male is typically larger than the female. Some Indian male specimens can reach a height of 6.6 feet and have a wingspan of 8.5 feet. It is the world’s tallest living flying bird. The average weight of this bird is 14 to 16 pounds, but weights of between 11 to 26 pounds are not uncommon. Australian birds are generally smaller than their northern counterparts.
This species can be found in small groups of 2 to 5 individuals and forage while walking in shallow water. They sometimes forage by probing with their long bills. They are omnivores and take in insects, aquatic plants and animals, crustaceans, seeds and berries, small invertebrates, and invertebrates. The nest is on the ground where the female lays two to three bulky eggs. Both adults take turns caring for the nest and eggs, and the male is the main protector. Breeding pairs tend to mate for life.
Mortality rates in this species can be high due to feeding on monocrotophos and dieldrin treated seeds that farmers use in their crops. Farmers believed that these cranes damage their rice fields, but studies show that direct feeding on rice grains has resulted in minor losses of less than 1 percent.
There are up to four subspecies recognized.