White-Naped Crane

White-necked crane

Antigone vipio
Population size
Life Span
45 yrs
5.6 kg
130 cm
112-125 cm
200-210 cm

The White-naped crane is the only species of crane with pinkish legs and a neck that is white and dark gray striped. Its hind neck and nape are white, surrounded by a large reddish face patch. The plumage of the adult is dark gray, the wings and wing coverts being silvery gray. Both genders look the same, although in breeding pairs the males are usually slightly larger. Like other species of crane, the White-naped crane engages in beautiful courtship displays with elaborate calls.


These cranes breed in northeastern China, northeastern Mongolia, and adjacent parts of southeastern Russia. Individuals in the western part of the breeding range will migrate south through China, stopping to rest at the Yellow River delta, then wintering in wetlands of the middle Yangtze River valley. Overwintering areas include the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea, as well as the Japanese island Kyushu, where there is an artificial feeding station outside the city of Izumi which they heavily rely upon. These birds prefer shallow wetlands or wet meadows within broad river valleys, near lake edges, and within lowland steppes or areas that are mixed forest-steppe. They feed nest, and roost in shallow wetlands and along the edges of wetlands, foraging in the adjacent grasslands or farmlands. While migrating and at their wintering grounds, they will use rice paddies, agricultural fields, mudflats, and other wetlands.

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

The White-naped crane is a social bird and is often found alongside other crane species within their range, such as Red-crowned, Hooded, Eurasian and Demoiselle cranes. A White-naped crane is diurnal and when foraging it digs into the soil with its long bill, to reach tubers and roots. This species is fairly territorial when digging and feeding. As with all cranes species, these cranes are often observed ‘dancing’: flapping their wings, tossing sticks and grass, jumping, running and bowing. These actions are part of courtship, but are also thought to relieve tension and reduce aggression. White-naped cranes start a flight by running along the ground, and taking off into the wind, quickly gaining speed, and lifting into the air, to fly with outstretched necks, while the legs trail behind. They use thermal currents whenever possible. They fly in a V formation during migration. They make high-pitched, penetrating calls.

Diet and Nutrition

This species is omnivorous and eats insects, small vertebrates, seeds, tubers, roots, wetland plants, and waste grains.

Mating Habits

1 month
70-75 days
2 eggs

This species is monogamous, establishing a long-term pair bond that may last its lifetime. They arrive at the breeding grounds in April, when mates find each other by means of an extended series of coordinated calls. The female initiates the display and then they both extend their necks with their head and bill upwards. The male usually gives one call while the female gives two. They perform “dances” by wing-flapping, running and bowing, and tossing plant material in the air, as other cranes do. They go back to the nesting sites after re-establishing their pair-bonds, and build their nest in open wetland. These birds breed in the spring and lay in April to May. The nest is in open wetland on the ground. 2 eggs are laid, two to three days apart. Incubation is for one month, by both adults. They strongly defend their nest, as well as the surroundings near the nest. Both parents feed the chicks, fledge when they are about 70-75 days old. They reach maturity at two-three years.


Population threats

These birds are threatened by loss of habitat from the drainage of wetland for the expansion of agriculture. Over-grazing and human disturbance threatens breeding grounds in Mongolia. Steppe fires destroy nesting sites and may decimate a colony. The main threat is human development on breeding grounds.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List the total White-naped crane population size is 6,250-6,750 individuals, including 3,700-4,500 mature individuals. There are 500-1,000 individuals that winter in China and 5,750 birds in Korea and Japan. Overall, currently this species is classified as Vulnerable (VU) and its numbers today are decreasing.

Cool Facts

  • Korean New Year celebrations use the White-naped crane as a symbol, and it is featured in folklore and art.
  • Cranes symbolize long life in Chinese and Japanese mythology.
  • The tracheas of this and other crane species are very long and pierce their sternum, enabling the birds' loud vocalizations or "bugling".
  • The nape is the back of the neck, this species’ name coming partly from this part of the body.
  • Cranes when “dancing” may leap as high as 8 feet into the air.
  • Cranes make loud vocalizations when warning intruding cranes that they are trespassing. If the intruder does not heed such warning, a fight may take place.


1. White-Naped Crane Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White-naped_crane
2. White-Naped Crane on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22692073/0

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