Red-crowned cranes are one of the most beautiful animals with their gracefully decorated snow white plumage; they are regarded as a symbol of longevity, love, fidelity and good luck for their sacred spirits. Along with belonging to the heaviest bird species, they are also known to be the second rarest species in the world.

Typically known as “xianhe” (仙) in Chinese language, red crowned crane (Grus japonensis丹顶), Manchurian crane or Japanese crane is one of the world’s most beautiful and rarest animals. It is found primarily in the marshes with deep waters, bogs, wet meadows and in swamps.

Due to its height of 1.5m it is able to stand out of its own habitat without being easily preyed upon by other predators. Interestingly, this species can weight somewhere around 7.7 to 10kg, which is considered to be the heaviest for the bird species.

Nowadays, red-crowned cranes are listed as an endangered species. Their habitats range from a variety geographical regions of Southeast Asia, China, Japan and in the Amur River basin of the eastern Russia. They are said to live as long as 1,000 years; and that’s why they are seen as a symbolization of longevity.

These beautiful birds display black color in their lower wings but are snow white throughout most of their body. For females, their cheeks, neck and throat are a pearly-grey, whilst in males they appear as black. Their legs are also black but their bills are an olive-green. The young are predominantly colored with a dull grayish-brown neck, black-tipped primaries and are predominantly white in color. Generally, adult red-crowned cranes have red color patch of skin on the crown of their heads. Surprisingly, when they get angry or excited, the patch of red skin on the head becomes bright red.

The eyes of theirs are very sharp as they can spot their potential predators even hundreds of meters away. For a purpose of predator defense, red-crowned cranes prefer to roost overnight in the deep waters of streams or rivers. Also, their flashy plumage is a great tool that assists them to secure their territory. They feed mainly on aquatic invertebrates, small rodents, amphibians and insects as well.

April or May is the cranes’ nesting period and normally the female crane lays two large light brown eggs, but in most cases, only one survives. Shortly after laying the eggs, both male and female cranes will share in the 29- to 34- day incubation. As soon as the first egg is laid, the incubation begins with the first young emerging 2 days ahead of the second egg.

The red-crowned cranes normally breed in the south-eastern area of Russia, northeast China, and northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. During the summer and spring, they sometimes breed in north-eastern Mongolia, but generally breed in Siberia instead. They will also migrate in flocks to other places in Southeast Asia, including Taiwan, China, Japan and Korea during the arrival of fall to spend the winter there.

In snow in Hokkaido, Japan. Several Red-crowned Cranes (also called the Japanese Crane or Manchurian Crane) in Hokkaido, Japan.

In snow in Hokkaido, Japan. Several Red-crowned Cranes (also called the Japanese Crane or Manchurian Crane) in Hokkaido, Japan.

Even though most of the red-crowned cranes migrate farther away from their habitat during the seasonal shift, the red-crowned cranes which are a species of Hokkaido seldom migrate to a distance greater than 150km.

In Chinese culture, the red-crowned crane is also regarded as a symbolization of longevity. Therefore, it’s not surprising when you see paintings of red-crowned cranes hanging on the wall of most Chinese families. We always see these red-clowned cranes surrounded with lots of unexplainable legends as they portray many mythological properties, and long ago, our ancestors had seen them as a symbolization of nobility. When you research through ancient Chinese history particularly during Zhou and Shang Dynasties, you will come across a depiction of red-crowned cranes on their tombs, explaining how important their existence is in our ancient Chinese culture. Besides the favorable pandas, red-crowned cranes are another favorite animal of the Chinese government as they were selected to represent the national animal of China by the National Forestry Bureau of the People’s Republic of China.

Not just in China are these red-crowned cranes extremely valued but also in Japan. In Japanese, red-crowned cranes are known as the “tanchoo” (たんちょう)or “tanchoo tsuru” (丹頂鶴, タンチョウヅル)and they are called “sarurun kamuy” in the Ainu language. They have also been featured as the official logos for the Japanese Airlines. You will see a design of a pair of red-crowned cranes in the note of Series D 1000 Japanese yen.

For centuries, most of the Japanese art favors a theme of the crane. Like the Japanese and Chinese, Koreans also favor red-crowned cranes (두루미), thought to bring good luck, love and fidelity for their sacred spirits. The red-crowned cranes are also legally being protected by North and South Korea, as well as Russia for their habitats which are constantly under threat of development and urbanization.

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