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The Critically Endangered Siberian Crane

Listed with the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) as 'critically endangered' the Siberian Crane, also known as the Snow Crane or Siberian White Crane, is found in the Arctic tundra terrain of eastern and western Russia, with the western population migrating to Iran for winter and the eastern population migrating to China. Undertaking the longest migration of any of the crane species, it is at this time that the birds are at their most vulnerable, primarily due to hunting and loss of habitat along their migration routes.

While the situation for Siberian Cranes is serious, their plight has been highlighted in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) Conserving Conservation Measures for the Siberian Crane which has been signed by eleven of the twelve states falling within the rare bird's range, including the Russian Federation. Among its objectives, the MoU undertakes to reduce mortality among Siberian cranes; carry out monitoring and research projects; increase awareness among members of the public; protect and manage habitats; and increase genetic diversity and numbers. These conservation initiatives have the support of the International Crane foundation.

Both male and female Siberian Cranes have pure white plumage, with black flight feathers, alula, coverts and pinkish-colored legs. The bird's bill is dark in color and its irises are yellow. Other than males generally being larger than females, there are no distinguishing features between the males and females, even during breeding season, where both sexes carry out a ritual of dipping their beaks in mud and smearing the mud on their feathers. They can weigh up to 8.6 kg and stand around 140cm tall with a wingspan of approximately 230 cm.

Siberian Cranes are very territorial and mating pairs are known to work together to drive other cranes away from their chosen habitat. These elegant birds feed throughout the day and mainly consume vegetation, although they do sometimes eat earthworms, fish and small rodents when vegetation is in short supply.

With an estimated world population of between 3,200 and 4,000 individuals, the majority of which are members of the eastern breeding population, the Siberian Crane stands a good chance of surviving, and hopefully increasing in number. The Yakuts and Yukaghirs of Siberia view the white crane as a sacred bird representing the sun, the season of spring and kind spirits. Be sure to look out for these rare and beautiful birds if you have the opportunity to go birding in Russia.

Picture attribution: Alois Staudacher - GNU - Wikimedia


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