Red-crowned Crane

The Red-crowned Crane (Grus japonensis), also known as the Japanese Crane or Manchurian Crane, is a species of bird found in Asia. In the spring and summer it is commonly found in Siberia and occasionally in northeastern Mongolia. In the fall, it migrates in flocks to Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, and other countries in East Asia to spend the winter. All Red-crowned Cranes migrate except for a flock that live in Hokkaidō. Its habitats are marshes, riverbanks, rice fields, and other wet areas. It is the second rarest crane in the world with an estimated population of 1500 individuals in the wild, with nearly 1000 in China. Nearly all of the Chinese population lives in the Yancheng Coastal Wetlands.

The adult stands about 55 inches high. It is snow white with a patch of red skin on its head. This patch becomes bright red when the bird becomes angry or excited. It is the heaviest species of crane, weighing 17 to 22 pounds, and rarely as much as 33 pounds. The diet of this bird consists of small amphibians, aquatic invertebrates, insects, and plants that grow in marsh and swamps. The female lays two eggs, with only one surviving.

In China, the Red-crowned Crane is often featured in myths and legends. In Taoism, the Red-crowned Crane is a symbol of longevity and immortality. In art and literature, immortals are often depicted riding on cranes. A mortal who attains immortality is similarly carried off by a crane. Reflecting this association, Red-crowned Cranes are called xian he, or fairy crane. The Red-crowned Crane is also a symbol of nobility. Depictions of the crane have been found in Shang Dynasty tombs and Zhou Dynasty ceremonial bronzeware.

Because of its importance in Chinese culture, the Red-crowned Crane was selected by the National Forestry Bureau of the People’s Republic of China as its only candidate for the national animal of China. But this decision was deterred because the Red-crowned Crane’s Latin name shows this species as the “Japanese Crane”.

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