Chinese Red-Crowned Crane

Written by Matteo Updated Apr. 6, 2021

Red-crowned crane (Grus japonensis), also called Xian-He (“xian” means “fairy” and “he” means “crane” in Chinese), white crane, and Cilou (the ancient name of the red-crowned crane in China), is a large crane that is named after the red crown on its head. The red-crowned crane, as one of the bird species, is peculiar to East Asia, implying good luck, fidelity, and longevity for its graceful posture and distinct color. Red-crowned Crane can live to the age of 50 to 60. While painting, people like to draw pines with red-crowned crane together as a symbol of longevity. Red-crowned crane has been included in the list of the State’s first-class protection Animals.

red crane in snow
Red-Crowned Crane in Winter


Like other kinds of cranes, the beak, neck, and legs of the red-crowned crane are also long. When it reaches maturity, except for its black neck and black flight feathers, most of the body is pure white with a patch of bright red skin on the crown of its head. The body of the nestling is brown with a yellow beak, while sub-adult is a combination of white, partly tawny, cinnamon brown, and grayish plumage. Two years later, the red skin on its crown of the head will become brighter and brighter.

Habitat/Where Do Red-Crowned Cranes Live

The main breeding grounds of red-crowned cranes are the coastal wetlands, such as Yancheng City in Jiangsu Province in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and Songnen Plain (mainly in Jilin Province and the Qiqihar City of Heilongjiang Province) in Northeast China. Besides, there are a few wild ones in Yunnan Province. Red-crowned cranes go through the winter in the Southeast coastal area of China, the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, Korean Bay, and Japan. Actually, in history, the distribution area of the red-crowned crane is much larger than that today, and their wintering grounds went southward into Fujian, Taiwan, Hainan, and other areas in the south of China. Due to the special status of this crane in Chinese culture, its detailed records were kept in the local chronicle, providing comprehensive and accurate data for studying the distribution of the rd-crowned crane.

Habits and Diet

Every year, the red-crowned cranes migrate between their breeding grounds and wintering grounds. Their habitats are marshes and marshy grasslands and they eat small fish, shrimps, aquatic invertebrates, insects, and rootstocks of some plants, varying according to seasons. An adult red-crowned crane moults twice a year, in spring it moults to summer plumage and in fall it molts to winter plumage. When moulting, they are not able to fly temporarily. The calls of red-crowned cranes are loud and clear, which can be used to define their territory and is an important way of communication during the mating season. Once a firm pair bond has been established, red-crowned cranes usually remain mated for life, although they will replace a mate that has died. The red-crowned cranes’ breeding seasons last for 6 months from March to September. They build nests with reeds and grass in a marshy area or shoal water sometimes. Female cranes usually lay eggs one time a year with 2 to 4 eggs each time. Both the male and female cranes share in the incubation which lasts 31 to 32 days. The nestlings are praecoces. The red-crowned cranes are omnivorous. In spring, they feed on seeds of grass and other plants. However, in summer, they have a wide variety of food to choose from, such as small fish, curstaceans, snails, insects, frogs, reed, sprouts, and grass seeds.

red crane
Red-Crowned Crane Habit

Cultural Connotation

The fairy cranes in Chinese legends and myths are actually red-crowned cranes. It is a kind of large wading bird living in the areas of marshes and wetlands, which is often reputed as the “Deity of Wetlands”. Though it has nothing to do with pine trees which grow on high mountains and hills, people still like to put the two together while drawing to express the wish for longevity. In East Asia, the red-crowned crane is regarded as the symbol of happiness, good luck, longevity, and fidelity by the people.

The Red-crowned Crane Has Became China's first-class Protection Animal

The enclosed exploitation of wetlands not only occupies the habitats of the red-crowned cranes but also blocks the interconnected water systems. Moreover, the climate in the Far East Region is getting more and more severe in recent years, causing a serious reduction of water areas. The pollution caused by human being’s activities also threatens the existence of the red-crowned crane. Additional threats include moor burn that damage nests and shelters and poachers who hunt in order to get the red-crowned cranes’ feathers and some organs.

As the constitution of protection laws and regulations, the poachers use hardly witnessed a way of poisoning instead, and it is becoming the main cause of its death. The red-crowned crane is included on the list of the State’s first-class protection Animals. It is also included on the Red List of the Threatened Species by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). 

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