Stanley Cranes, also known as Blue Cranes or Paradise Cranes, are the national bird of South Africa, which is where they are primarily found. Stanley Cranes are rare in the world and even rarer in the United States. With their blue-white graceful coloring, stream-lined bodies, and long trailing dark wing feathers, these birds are truly an elegant and extravagant bird to raise.
Males and females are almost indistinguishable. They are both mostly a silvery bluish-white color. Their heads are clean and have bare skin, with very dense feathers that can be raised creating a variety of angles to the face and head to display emotion. They have longer, darker feathers on the lower neck and chest, but the most alluring part of their appearance are the long trailing dark bluish-black feathers that descend from the undersides of the wings (tertial feathers) almost to the ground. Their black legs complement the look beautifully.
Range: The Stanley Crane has a very limited range, 99% of the entire population is in the country of South Africa, with a few smaller populations, only about 60 individuals, scattered in the neighboring country of Namibia.
Habitat: Stanley Cranes thrive in dry grassy uplands, pastures, and plains with scattered trees. During nesting season, they look for areas with both access to wetlands and upland pasture. They mostly feed on land. They practice altitudinal migration, which means that instead of migrating long distances, they migrate to lower altitudes where it is warmer, during the cold season.
Status in the Wild: The wild population of Stanley Cranes is currently on the decline, after a dramatic population dip in the early 1980s. The primary causes of the sudden decline are quite typical – human population growth, development, and agriculture expansion. The South African government is working to better protect its national bird. Currently, the Conservation Status of Stanley Cranes is Threatened and Vulnerable.
Status in Aviculture: Cranes are unusual and rare birds to see in private collections. Although they are hardy and adaptable, Cranes and especially rare Stanley Cranes, are not for inexperienced or beginning bird enthusiasts.
Breeding: Cranes are famous for their dancing during courtship. Stanley Cranes have an elaborate and active breeding ritual that involves both males and females, both sexes going through a series of seemingly choreographed bows, twirls, bobs, jumps, and short runs. There is flapping, twirling, and calls back and forth. These dancing rituals are not limited to breeding and courtship; they seem to be a social interaction that bonds individuals and flocks. Male and female Stanley Cranes mate for life.
Incubation: Nests are constructed of dry grass on the ground, and usually two eggs are laid each season. Both sexes take part in incubating the eggs, and incubation is 30 to 33 days. The male can be extremely aggressive in protecting the eggs and nest. Chicks can walk at two days old and fledge between 3 and 5 months of age. The chicks are tended by both parents, and they are fed by the female who regurgitates food into the chicks’ beaks. The chicks usually stay with the parents until the next breeding season.
Lifespan: Stanley Cranes have been reported to live up to 50 years old.
Size: Stanley Cranes are small for cranes. They are about 3.5 to almost 4 feet tall, and they have a wingspan that reaches over 6 feet. They weigh between 9 and 12 pounds. Males and females are similar in size.
Housing Requirements: Cranes are large birds with a high activity level, and they need a large enclosure or aviary. At least 200 square feet of well-protected aviary space per bird is required. Some sort of additional indoor, heated winter shelter will be needed for colder months in most northern areas of the US. Cranes are vulnerable to predators when kept in an enclosure, so be very certain that your space is secure even against small predators like weasel and mink.
Diet: In the wild, Stanley Cranes eat an omnivorous diet consisting of seeds and plants, insects, and small animals. Commercial Crane Diet would be recommended for general feeding, but supplementing your birds with greens and vegetables, peanuts, mealworms, fruit, and small fish would be a great way to add variety and diversity to their diet.
Miscellaneous Notes: Stanley Cranes are culturally significant to the Xhosa people of South Africa, who call it Indwe. The Xhosa tradition awards men who have distinguished themselves with a crane feather in a special ceremony called Ukundzabela. These men, after receiving the feathers, would decorate their hair with the feathers and would be expected, if trouble arose, to play a role in restoring peace and order. Xhosa warriors also wore the feathers into battle.